Players in denial that nights out and injuries don't mix
On a visit to London from Tipperary, my uncle once asked why I had particular dates marked on the calendar on the wall of my kitchen.
When I told him they were the days when I knew I could next have a night out, he was astonished with the discipline of the training regime I had undertaken and the sacrifices which had become part of that routine. I was a few weeks away from my next outing when he asked.
It never dawned on either of us to query the existence of what amounted to a booze schedule for a professional footballer, but the demands of the job were always easier to accept when I knew of the next opportunity to let go. And those occasions came along a lot more often when I was injured.
Nights out for injured players were based on our idea of logic. The ill-effects of drinking would be offset by the recovery time available before a return to the playing field was possible. Every player deals with these situations in his own way obviously, but I knew of very few who didn't see a spell in the treatment room as incredibly frustrating.
Depending on the injury it can still be a physically demanding time, but it is always monotonous. In any case, players don't view sitting on the treatment table as a part of the job in which their performance would be measured.
Robbie Keane's appearance singing Garth Brooks' songs in a pub in Malahide last week brought all of this into my mind once again. He was criticised in many circles for behaving in a manner unbecoming of a national team captain, but the opportunity to get away from the squad at a time when he could play no meaningful role is understandable. Given the disappointment he must surely have felt at the time, there's nothing wrong with that.
The flip side to this argument is to point to the indisputable facts surrounding the detrimental effects of alcohol on a player recovering from injury.
The management of any soft tissue injury, as with Keane's current complaint, requires reduced blood flow to the area in order for it to be contained. Drinking has the opposite effect, increasing the flow of blood to the area which is likely to extend the period of recovery. It's that straightforward, but it's generally ignored by players.
Giovanni Trapattoni acknowledged last week he cannot change the lifestyle habits of the squad overnight, but finds it "impossible to understand" how previous Ireland managers would allow players to act in this way. In Italy, he said, Italian players just don't do it. But in the UK during my time, many players did.
Throughout the majority of my career I had a more active social life when faced with any period of absence from the team because of injury, as did most of my team-mates.
I was always warned of the damaging effects of alcohol on my ability to recover from an injury, but didn't appreciate it enough to behave. Maybe I conveniently chose to ignore all that, but I rarely stayed indoors when I knew I couldn't play.
Keane knew last weekend he would take no part in Tuesday's
game with Armenia so presumably thought no harm would come of his trip to the pub. Those on the outside are quick to criticise, but nights out have always been a feature for injured lads. There are no reprisals for performing poorly in the gym each day, so it's generally seen as a chance to have fun.
Keane was told last week he faces a spell of four to six weeks of treatment before he will be fit enough to return. If he is not recovered in time to take part in either game against Estonia, he may only miss out by a matter of days.
His night out last week isn't a question of how players should behave but whether Ireland's captain was doing all he possibly could to be available for his country's best chance of qualifying for a major international tournament in a decade. If alcohol was involved, the answer is a resounding no. Time will tell if he gets away with it.
Sunday Indo Sport