Wednesday 20 March 2019

'The fitter I get, the more prone I am to flaking out'

Paddy Gumley will be hoping to replicate the display he gave in the Munster final when he lines out against Corofin on Saturday. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Paddy Gumley will be hoping to replicate the display he gave in the Munster final when he lines out against Corofin on Saturday. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Sam Wheeler

They say that you can never be too fit, but in Paddy Gumley's case, that simply isn't true. Being too fit could do him serious harm.

But that hasn't stopped the Cavan man establishing himself as a key man in the star-studded Nemo Rangers side, at the age of 35, and on Saturday he is set to make his first appearance at Croke Park, in the AIB All-Ireland Club SFC final against Corofin.

Just under a decade ago, Gumley was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), where a thickening of the vascular muscle restricts the heart's ability to pump blood. If he over-exerts himself, he can black out.

"After exertion the blood can't get out quick enough and there's a lack of blood and oxygen going to your brain which causes you to collapse," he explains. "And I have to be very careful because the fitter I get, the more prone I am to flaking out."

He was initially advised to take six months off work, and give up Gaelic football, but an expert in London told him he could keep playing "for another year or two, if you don't over-abuse it - just maybe don't train at the level you were at".

"I'm rolling the dice a wee bit with what I'm doing at the minute but I never expected to go this far. So I'm not going to pull out at this stage," says Gumley, who has quit football three times but is enjoying a remarkable Indian summer.

"It's frustrating knowing there's more in you but it's always in the back of your mind, 'Will I ease off the throttle here'.

"You could never get to a certain fitness level. You could still go out and tear into a game but to progress you could never up the ante, say, over a six-week training block to get to the next level of fitness."

Gumley was aware of his condition as a childhood - "it happened as a youngster all the time in PE" - but he managed to keep it concealed and never sought medical advice.

"I was embarrassed by it a wee bit; it's not the nicest thing to have to say there's something wrong with you," he says. "Nobody knew, not even my parents. I was very good at masking it. I have about a 35- to 40-second window where I feel the sensation coming on, so I'll usually get to a jacks or lie down somewhere where nobody can see me.

"Now there has been a few witnessed it. Like, if I was down in the club I'd walk around to the back of the dressing-rooms and (afterwards) someone would say, 'Why is the side of your face covered in gravel?' I'd be like, 'Ah...' So they'd have a fair idea.

"When I came to, if you told me I was there for three weeks, I'd believe you. I wouldn't have a clue. But I'd remember the time it happened.

"I'd be fuzzy, pins and needles, cold sweat, white as a sheet. You go into denial - you say, 'Of course I'm right' but obviously you wouldn't be. You're just... everything is a big haze... But I'd just walk back out and train away or play away."

Gumley gave up football at 15 for six years, playing no sport at all. He was coaxed back into the game and played at junior level with his home club, Redhills.

They won promotion to intermediate and then senior level, and by 2009, he was on the Cavan panel.

"I played McKenna Cup and league but that was it; it was very sporadic, I was in and I was out," he recalls.

Then everything came to a head as then Breffni manager Tommy Carr was delivering a talk after a training drill. Gumley felt a blackout coming but wasn't able to leave the room in time.

"I went into a seizure, kind of an epileptic seizure. That was the first time anyone witnessed it. That was basically it, they sent me up to the Mater," he says.

After the various diagnoses, he eased up, and did a bit of travelling, but he kept playing for Redhills, even when his work as a sales rep for Lucozade took him to Wexford, and then Cork. Eventually the travelling got too much, and at 33, he bade farewell to Redhills, and, he thought, to football.

But the lure was too strong. He lives just down the road from Nemo in Douglas, and he fancied a bit of social football.

That didn't last long. Gumley isn't the biggest, he isn't the youngest and he can't be the fittest, but he is just a natural talent, and he quickly rose through the ranks of the most decorated club in the land.

"I started with the Junior C's in Nemo, then the B's and the A's, then the intermediates and the seniors. It wasn't any mad masterplan or anything. It just kind of worked out," he says.

"Each one of those teams were more than welcoming to me. It probably took about four or five months to get to the seniors."

Gumley didn't initially tell Nemo about his condition, explaining: "It doesn't really affect me. I don't think about it a whole pile. I don't let it."

The club know about it now and they are happy for him to stick to his own training regime, and he is repaying their trust, generally playing "45-50 minutes".

A playmaker and finisher of the highest calibre, Gumley delivered a masterclass in the Munster final defeat of Dr Crokes - he was forced out of the All-Ireland semi-final win over Slaughtneil midway through the first half with a calf niggle - although he plays down his contribution.

"It's great to win but it's more about not wanting to let anyone down," he says.

"The lads have put faith in me. If I'm taken off with five minutes to go, I want to be able to look them in the eye and say, 'I emptied the tank'."

Gumley doesn't dwell on what he might achieved had it not been for the HCM, or if he had managed the condition better in his younger days. He is simply looking forward to what could well be a glorious swansong.

"I'd say this could be the last hurrah," he says. "Possibly the last senior game. I don't know if I'll keep playing junior football.

"I have a wife and young child now (Seán, just turned one) and I have neglected them the last few weeks, so I'll be under heavy pressure to make up for that time."

Paddy Gumley was speaking ahead of the AIB All-Ireland Club Championship finals. For exclusive behind-the-scenes content, follow AIB GAA on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat and



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