David Wallace: It was difficult to adjust to life after rugby
But as time goes on, you want to be back in there in the thick of it
Published 29/08/2014 | 02:30
A quick look at the calendar tells me this is the third full season that I've have been retired from the game and really it's only now that I feel ready to watch rugby and talk about it again.
In my own head I've already been gone for three seasons because my last year was a write-off. I managed to play three times towards the end of the 2011-12 season in an effort to make it back but it didn't work out. For that reason I don't really count my last season.
As I was making my comeback from injury, I was gung-ho and I was adamant I was going to get back and I was going to get into great shape and manage to stay in good shape. But, as it turned out, my knee couldn't take it. Perhaps I forced it a bit, but for whatever reason it certainly didn't work out.
Every former professional rugby player says the same thing, but you really don't know what to expect until you step away from the game. I never realised the kind of pressure that I was under: it's like having exams every week.
Of course we loved it and it's what we thrived on, but when you step out, you feel a release of pressure like a big weight lifted off your shoulders. The freedom that gives you is a relief.
Obviously you miss the game, you miss the camaraderie and you miss your close network of friends. Rugby was my social outlet and it became my career, and my hobby and it's a lot to leave behind.
But on the positive side, I'm lucky. I have two boys, Andrew and Harvey, a daughter Julia-Rose and my wife Aileen to spend more time with. Just having weekends back and having the bit of freedom was the major thing for me.
As a rugby player, you live in a bit of a bubble. It's all about training, eating, sleeping and playing games. So to step into reality and having the chance to meet and chat with people without feeling rushed is a breath of fresh air.
But as time goes on, you want to be back in there in the thick of it. When the big games come around you want to be togging out again. Then I just remember what it would be like to be running or be hit on my knee and then I park the boyish notions for another while.
Notions is all they'll ever be though. My knee has slowly gotten a bit better and I tend to try and look after it as much as I can. I do a bit of cycling, which helps a lot; it keeps it moving and builds up the muscles.
But still, I know if I pushed it at all, it would react. I've had about two or three episodes, which serve as a reminder that I have to take it a bit easier. Normally around this time of year it flares up and I'd end up limping around for a month or so. When the weather improves I naturally get more active and always overdo it. That's when it lets me know it hasn't gone away. I don't run on it at all. I've tried to jog a handful of times just to see what it feels like, but I've never really felt comfortable and I let it go for another few months. I know my limits and I know not to push it.
Accepting that life as a pro rugby player is behind you can be a tricky thing to accept, but it certainly helped me to keep busy and the distraction of work definitely helped.
I got involved with a company called Mr Simm's Olde Sweet Shoppe and after we opened a shop in the Crescent Shopping Centre in Limerick we went on to open another six or seven shops around the country. All that took off just a few months after I retired so it kept me busy and distracted.
The whole experience of finishing up in the game made me feel like I just needed a clean break from rugby. I desperately wanted to become a fan again and to watch it from a fan's point of view, relishing the game like when I was a young lad.
As a pro, it becomes a bit of job at times and I wanted that sheer enjoyment and love for the game back.
I probably ran away from it a bit at the start, but I dipped my toe back in last season and I really enjoyed watching it from an analytical point of view rather than from a player's perspective.
The passion for the game is back, now bring on the season!