Saturday 19 October 2019

Dubs star Kevin Nolan won't let diabetes derail his dream

Dublin's Kevin Nolan at Croke Park yesterday. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Dublin's Kevin Nolan at Croke Park yesterday. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Dublin's Kevin Nolan at Croke Park yesterday. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

AMID the drama of Dublin's heroic draw with Mayo and the last-gasp win over Tyrone, there was a personal victory that went largely unnoticed when Kevin Nolan completed back-to-back games.

A nailed-on starter under Pat Gilroy, fate intervened to put Kilmacud Crokes man on the back foot. In the days after his late point helped Dublin end a 16-year wait for Sam Maguire in the dramatic 2011 decider, Nolan was floored by the news that he suffered from Type One diabetes.

The doctors discovered his condition the week of the All-Ireland final but kept the news from him until after the game. In the months that followed, he lost two stone.

He got through 2012 but listened to his body when he took a break at the start of 2013. By the time he came back, he couldn't break into a team that swept all before them.

It would have been easy to walk away but despite his condition, he remained determined to re-establish himself.

"I took a lot of encouragement from the likes of Gary Mabbutt – I never saw him play but I heard of this English footballer playing with diabetes. And Stephen Redgrave winning an Olympic gold medal with diabetes too... So it is just another challenge."


Managing diabetes and inter-county football is a delicate balancing act. Too little and he's devoid of energy, while too much sugar in the blood and sprinting becomes a problem.

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Recovery is different too. After a game or training, with the rest of the squad finished, Nolan takes five minutes to bring his heart rate down.

Injections are regularly required and his insulin is always close by. Pumps that keep levels right are available but, he points out, hardly ideal for contact sport.

"I got a phone call from a player in Monaghan there recently and he said you're not allowed wear (a pump during a game) because it is illegal. It's classified as a weapon on a Gaelic pitch. I don't use pumps; I use pens to inject insulin but it's something I might look into.

"It's attached to you and constantly dropping insulin in but it's something I'd have to ask the GAA about.

"You have teams wearing these GPS monitors and heart-rate monitors and I see nothing different about this – although from what I heard it costs between €3-4,000 so it's not something you might want on a GAA pitch because it's not the politest of games and a few knocks could damage it very easily."

An all-round sportsman who was courted by Blackburn Rovers, Leicester and, more recently, the AFL, Nolan refuses to use his condition as an excuse and works actively with Diabetes Ireland as an ambassador.

"The blood sugars have to be right, I have to eat before a certain time and just make sure that the insulin I give myself is matching up to the food that I eat. Other lads don't have to worry about that but they can't go out and eat a Big Mac and chips, I can't do that as well but I have just got to be a bit more careful with what I eat.

"I have to eat gluten-free stuff but it is just about being prepared, being organised and being in control."

Such is the extent of Gavin's options, there's no guarantee he'll start Sunday's league semi-final. But having looked on from the bench last year, there's only one place he wants to be this summer.

"It's not nice sitting in the stand. You're putting in the same effort as everyone else and it's just encouraging you to get out onto the pitch. The likes of myself, Bryan Cullen, Michael Fitzsimons, Denis Bastick ... we wouldn't have been regulars last year. The year before, we played a lot of games. And the year before that.

"We're in the squad now with that hunger that we want to be there. We saw the lads celebrating on the pitch in 2013. I want to be back out there, playing in the game."

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