Sport Gaelic Football

Friday 14 December 2018

Adjusting to leading role on sidelines

Attride trying to help Laois any way he can as he continues recovery from horror head injury

Stephen Attride: ‘One of the doctors said the fracture in my eye socket was very close to my optic nerve. He said I was lucky not to lose the vision in my eye’. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Stephen Attride: ‘One of the doctors said the fracture in my eye socket was very close to my optic nerve. He said I was lucky not to lose the vision in my eye’. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Marie Crowe

Laois football captain Stephen Attride has a scar that stretches from the edge of his eye socket through his eyebrow and on to his forehead.

It will always serve as a reminder of the serious injury he suffered against Carlow in the Leinster football semi-final.

The 24-year-old sustained the injury deep into stoppage time, when he threw himself on a breaking ball to deny a Carlow attack. He won the ball but his head collided with the knee of Carlow's Ciaran Moran.

"The last thing I remember was that Kieran Lillis had given a kick pass into the full-forward line," says Attride. "They were breaking, there was a bit of an overlap. The ball broke to the Carlow wing-back, the ball broke and I ended up diving on it."

Attride was knocked out and was instantly treated by the Laois medical team before being taken from the field on a stretcher and then brought to the Mater Hospital. He had a concussion, two skull fractures and needed 25 stitches.

"It was all very hazy, I remember waking up and my mam and the team doctor were in the ambulance, I was babbling to them. I was wondering where we were going and who we had played.

"The doctor said I must have asked him ten times did we win the match. The only other thing I remember from that night was the stitches. I had a local anaesthetic, I could feel the needle going in and out of my head but I couldn't feel any pain. It was a weird sensation.

"I was worried about my memory more than the injury. It was quite scary not remembering parts of Sunday and Monday. I was a bit worried about my eyesight too.

"One of the doctors said the fracture in my eye socket was very close to my optic nerve. He said I was lucky not to lose the vision in my eye. I looked back on the incident on video and it didn't look too bad. It was just the speed of it, but I was fine watching it."

By the Tuesday after the game Attride started to come around. He had calls and texts from several footballers from Laois, Carlow and further afield. Moran, the player he collided with, had been in touch and Attride was quick to tell him there were no hard feelings. Carlow manager Turlough O'Brien also called to check up on him.

After beating Carlow, Laois had a date with Dublin in the Leinster final but Attride had to sit it out. "The doctor told me I wouldn't be playing football for a while and I was gutted. It was hard just watching the Dublin game. Our manager John Sugrue tried to keep me as involved as possible, then he asked me to lead the parade and that was a big privilege."

He returned to training last Saturday and just a bit of light jogging, in four or five weeks he can resume contact.

Laois footballer Daniel O'Reilly who recently sustained a similar injury during an assault on a night out is also returning to contact work, so they train together.

"We are doing low-contact stuff, it's good to have the two of us coming back from concussion. We can do the same drills."

Although football is a huge part of Attride's life now it's not his first love. When he was a teenager athletics was his main focus.

He fitted football in when he could but middle to long-distance running was his thing. He competed at national and international level and was very much on track to reach an elite level.

However, an episode of shin splints when he was in his last year of school halted his progress.

"I was training eight or nine times a week, I'd get up before school to do a run and then do another one in the evening. It was intense and after that I threw my lot in with football.

"I found that the athletics really helped my fitness, that big aerobic base that is built up over the years."

Attride studied at DCU and Ross Munnelly, who was coaching the freshers team there, took him under his wing and selected him for his squad.

He started out as a wing-forward but gradually moved further back and ended up as a corner-back.

They won an All-Ireland and his performances were noticed by the then Laois senior manger Justin McNulty. That was 2013 and he has been ever present ever since.

Last year Peter Creedon made him captain and it was an honour. "He just called me aside and asked me would I be captain. He said he wanted someone who would set a good example at training and someone who would speak well to the team. I'd definitely be a good trainer, I'd buy into that."

John Sugrue came in as Laois manager after Creedon departed and the Kerry native retained Attride as his captain. They won Division 4 in the National League and progressed through Leinster, reaching the final for the first time since 2007, where they lost to Dublin.

"He's brought huge enthusiasm and has a good tactical brain too and he has a good set-up around him."

Laois are one game away from the Super 8s - they play Monaghan today in a fourth-round qualifier.

"It's great when you think where we started, in Division 4, rock bottom. It's bonus territory really. There are a few big teams gone already so it's pretty open. I'll be there in Navan helping out as much as I can and giving lads feedback when they need it."

It's been an interesting summer, to put it mildly, for Attride but he's not done yet.

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