Thursday 14 December 2017

Injury ended Vinny's playing days but he's still on the ball

Graham Clifford

THERE'S something about the feel of a Gaelic football that Vinny O'Sullivan loves.

The smell of the cut grass before a championship clash in the middle of the summer, the sound of the studs clacking as the boots pound the dressing room floor, the intensity of the pitch battle, the belt of a shoulder, the injustice of a referee's decision, the sweet taste of victory, the sucker blow of defeat -- all in Vinny's DNA, all he knows.

Sadly, a career-ending injury suffered in last year's Hertfordshire County final, in which he cracked his vertebrae and was fortunate not to be paralysed, means that the 35-year-old Kerryman won't compete on a GAA field again.

Doctors told him his playing days were over as surgeons fused two of his vertebrae together and inserted a metal plate and screws into his neck. But just months after his devastating injury, the Kerryman is determined to continue his participation in the sport he loves -- albeit in another way.

"I could never turn away from Gaelic football," says the father of one, adding: "Over the years it's given me so many great times and through it I've made the most amazing friends. Even with the injury taken into consideration the positives far outweigh the negatives."

And that's why on March 10 this year the former Glen Rovers, Parnells and London county player will lead a team of Kerry Exiles out on to the pitch in his native Waterville for the inaugural Mick O'Dwyer football tournament.

"I'm not really a good patient and I was eager to get my teeth into something as I was recovering at home. So when Dan Fitz, who is chairman of the Waterville club (in south Kerry), asked me if I'd consider sorting out a Kerry Exiles side to compete in the competition I jumped at the chance," Vinny tells me.

Already 21 Kerrymen based with clubs across London and beyond have signed up to be part of the O'Sullivan's side -- including the former Exiles county star Mike Moloney who only recently returned to play with Dr Crokes after a season in the English capital.

However, if Moloney breaks into Kerry's panel for the National Football League he may be missing in action from the playing fields of Waterville.

"We've lads from every corner of Kerry," exclaims Vinny, adding: "There are least 50 players from the county in London at the moment which is astonishing and a sign of the times."

His rehab is progressing nicely and all going well he could even return to his job as a self-employed shuttering carpenter by the start of May. In recent weeks he's been able to lift his young son Michael again after being told not to do so in the aftermath of his horrific injury.

"I have physio once a week with Colm Fuller from Killarney who's working with London Irish now. He has ways I can strengthen certain muscles and it definitely helps. It's slow enough progress though. I used to be able to do 50 press-ups no problem but now I'm struggling to do 10. Hopefully, as I keep doing the exercises, that will improve in the next few months" says Vinny. With some sponsorship secured from Thames Materials Ltd, the Kerry Exiles will be hoping to show Micko and the people of Waterville football on this side of the Irish Sea is in fine fettle.

"We're not going there just to make up the numbers" says Vinny, adding: "after players have given this kind of commitment we're going to give it our best shot and make sure we don't give up."

But then again, ''giving up'' is a concept Vinny O' Sullivan just doesn't understand.

If you'd like to be involved in the Kerry Exiles party to travel to Waterville in March you can call 079 60953004 for more information.

Irish Independent

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