Tuesday 20 March 2018

'I'll play for Dubs despite breaking my back in horror skiing accident' - young GAA player

Fionn O' Ceallaigh in his Dublin colours.
Fionn O' Ceallaigh in his Dublin colours.
Fionn Ó Ceallaigh (centre) pictured with his mother Patricia and sister Caoileann, skiing in 2015.

Alan O’Keeffe

THIS young Dublin GAA player has spoken of his determination to return to the pitch after breaking his back in a skiing accident.

Fionn O Ceallaigh (16) said he is determined to return to playing underage hurling and football for Dublin after breaking his back in an accident at Easter.

Fionn was skiing in Austria with his family when the horrific accident happened.

He suffered five broken vertebrae in his back, three broken ribs and punctured lungs.

“I was coming to a really sharp bend so I slowed down but my skis got tangled and came off,” said Fionn.

“I hit a tree and my back bent, I could hear the cracking, then I tumbled 20 or 30 metres down the side of the mountain. 

“The only good thing about hitting the tree was that it slowed my speed, before I slid down the mountain side,” said the schoolboy.

Fionn who is a member of the Under-16 Dublin football and hurling panels, as well as playing for Kilmacud Crokes and his school team Colaiste Eoin, said he remembers “every detail” of the accident.

“I was shouting for help, but each time I shouted I had to stop to draw breath ... I had broken three ribs and they’d punctured my lungs, so the air was leaking out,” he said.

“All I was thinking was that I wouldn’t be able to play in the football championship. I hadn’t eaten since 1pm, and I was getting hungry, so I decided that I wasn’t going to stay out here all night with my back broken, so I turned onto my belly and dragged myself back up.”

Fionn, who spoke to Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh on RTE Raidio na Gaeltachta, managed to get the attention of other skiiers. Meanwhile, his dad Micheal, who had been further behind him on the slopes, described in the interview his own fear when his son was not at the end of the run.

“When he wasn’t there I knew he must have had a terrible accident, because we hadn’t seen him on the run, which meant he had come off the slope ... I was terrified,” he said.

“I told them they’d have to send out a search party, and myself and my daughter Caoilfhionn went back up to come down the run again to look for him. It was like we were zombies – we weren’t crying because we knew if he needed help we had to get to him. You have to shut down every emotion in your body and keep going,” he said.

As they made their way up the mountain, they got a call from a German woman who was with Fionn to say he had had an accident. Then they saw the helicopter.

“I saw the helicopter coming in to land, and then leaving. I knew my son was in it, and it was like my heart had been stolen from my chest and was leaving with the helicopter.”

“I thought for 10 or 15 minutes that my son had been taken from me. For three days I didn’t know if he would walk again. It’s like we’ve won the Lotto twice – once when he was born, and then a second time when he survived the accident.”

Fionn spent 16 days in hospital in Austria, and six days in the Mater, and is now cycling, swimming, and going to the gym six times a week.

He told Blathnaid of his absolute determination to be back playing in October.

“That’s what keeps me going,” he said. “There’s no feeling in the world like when you score a goal, and I’d do anything to get that feeling again. I’m not going to come back to play tiddlywinks, I want to come back and play at the highest level, play for Dublin.”

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