'I felt the whole thing getting on top of me' - Former Kilkenny star sought counselling after horror injury
Former Kilkenny goalkeeper David Herity took the decision to avail of the GPA's counselling service when a hip injury sustained before the 2014 All-Ireland final proved too difficult to cope with
David Herity always had a dream, and it went something like this: "My ultimate thing would be, a minute to go, two points up, top-corner save," he says.
"Dive over, hit my head, don't get up. The referee blows the full-time whistle and I can hear it as I'm knocked out, or gone. I don't care, I've done it. I've done that for Kilkenny. I've got justification."
Herity, who won five All-Ireland senior medals in seven years with the Kilkenny panel, felt like a man on a mission for most of that time. One of his biggest cravings was for acceptance from his own people.
He always wanted to make that save, one like his childhood hero, the former Limerick goalkeeper Joe Quaid. Or PJ Ryan's blinding stop from Seamus Callanan in the 2009 final.
Working in an environment of excellence within the Kilkenny set-up, the demands Herity placed on himself took him to breaking point on more than one occasion.
Three weeks out from the 2014 All-Ireland final, Herity was going through a repetitive striking drill off his left-hand side when he felt something go in his hip. He collapsed to the ground, limped to the dressing-rooms for some dry-needling treatment, but decided against it.
While his team-mates were running, Herity returned to the training field and took some puck-outs. There could be no signs of weakness.
In the days that followed, he rolled out of bed in the mornings, often after fitful sleeps, got onto all fours and struggled to his feet. Only a couple of people knew how bad things were: his father, a hard-working man who attends to the family's fruit and veg business, and Herity's girlfriend, Ciara.
Herity says: "My dad, who is the most honest man I know, told me to tell Brian Cody that I was banjaxed as it was the right thing for the team. That was never going to happen.
"I couldn't tell anybody on the panel. How would you feel if you were JJ Delaney or Jackie Tyrrell and you knew the goalkeeper behind you was f***ed? I felt the whole thing getting on top of me."
He'd wake at night with his mind racing. Hurling, the injury, and Eoin Murphy, his rival for the jersey. Wracked by fear, he availed of the personal counselling service available to players via the Gaelic Players Association.
At training, he felt like he was running with prosthetic legs. Emerging from the tunnel at Nowlan Park, he'd trot past Cody with a smile on his face but then close his eyes and grimace all the way to the top end of the field.
There was a wet evening when John Power fired in a shot, a difficult one to control, and it got away from Herity.
He looked at the ball lodged in the ground, just a few yards away, and while his mind urged him to clear up the mess, his body couldn't. Mark Kelly pulled and stuck the ball in the net.
The writing was on the wall when Cody told Herity he was on the 'B' team for a training match eight days out from the final. On the Monday before the game, Herity went to Cappagh hospital for a painkilling injection.
It didn't work but he tried something different and it got him back to stage where he could grit his teeth and get up to a three-quarter pace sprint.
On the Friday night, Herity arrived at training and made his way to a bundle of jerseys due to be signed by all panel members.
He says: "I saw two names on them - Brian Cody and Eoin Murphy. This was very unusual. Eoin would normally be on ten minutes after me. Normally it was David Herity first and everyone else's names streaming after me."
Before training, Cody broke the news to Herity that he wouldn't be starting against Tipp. It took a few moments for confirmation to sink in.
"Look, I know how you feel but I wanted to tell you now."
"You don't have a clue how I feel. You don't, Brian."
"Uhm, I suppose I don't."
But with the benefit of hindsight, Herity is grateful to Cody for letting him know before training, rather than later, when the chosen 15 was revealed to the rest.
"It was a sign of respect that you don't get too often from Brian, and I mean that in a nice way," he explains.
"So many lads over the years had got dropped for finals but he knew the work I'd put in to get myself back on that team and how much it meant to me.
"In a way, he didn't want to drop me but he had no other choice. The way I was playing in training, I couldn't move."
Herity asked Cody for a moment, returned to the dressing-room and rang his mother, Bernadette. "Tell everyone I'm gone, I'm dropped."
In the dressing-room after training, he finally broke. Placing a towel over his head, Herity walked naked towards the showers and pretended he was drying his hair, when he hadn't even washed.
He didn't want any of his team-mates to know he was crying but when he found a cubicle in which to lock himself away, he let the emotion out.
He couldn't wait until the following Monday, when he could have a few drinks and block it all out. But the final ended in a draw and Herity vowed that he would enjoy the three weeks before the replay. In a way, he was relieved.
"I can live with not playing in a final but I couldn't live with playing in a final and costing Kilkenny," he says.
Because he'd come close to feeling like that in 2011, when Pa Bourke scored a second-half goal that slipped through him and revived a flagging Tipp challenge.
Last Tuesday, Herity came across a compilation video of moments from previous matches between Kilkenny and Tipp, and Bourke's goal was on it. He reckons he must have watched it 50 times.
After that game, as Kilkenny's players hoisted the Liam MacCarthy Cup aloft, one by one in front of Hill 16, when it came to Herity's turn he felt empty.
He knew the Bourke goal wasn't great but everywhere he seemed to go in the days that followed, he was greeted by 'well done', and a caveat. 'Ah, but you nearly cost us.'
He was so driven to make up for that mistake the following year that he almost drove himself into the ground, dropping his body fat to just 5pc
"I was psyched that I was going to be Hurler of the Year, trying to box jump over the crossbar kind of a job."
Once again in 2012, Kilkenny played Tipperary, this time in a semi-final.
Approaching half-time, Herity rushed out to collect the ball, went to rise it and was barged by Lar Corbett. Pa Bourke slotted the ball into an empty net. Bourke again, the demon Herity was trying to exorcise.
Herity says: "I've seen other days when a free might be given for that. I went back into the umpire and went 'surely that's a free?'"
The umpire gave it to Herity straight. "You ran out, you hesitated, you f***ed up, it's your fault."
In the dressing-room at half-time, Cody sidled over and asked: "are you alright?"
"When you hear those words, you know you've messed up."
The following March, it was Tipp again. A League match this time.
As Pádraic Maher's long ball made its way towards the Kilkenny goal, Paddy Hogan slipped and Herity made up his mind to go for it. Corbett got the touch and flicked it home.
"Freezing cold day, just horrible," Herity recalls. "Warming up and nearly tears in my eyes, a pain in my shoulder. I can't do this. Lar flicked the ball to the net and hit me in the back of my head with his knee. I just hate this game, hate it."
Herity had damaged his shoulder in the build-up to the 2012 final against Galway. A specialist told him that his problem, a torn rotator cuff, was nine out of 10 in terms of severity. Adrenaline got him through but he had two options then: surgery or build up the muscles around the damaged joint.
He went with the latter and while the colder days hurt, the pain started to ease a bit, and although Murphy had taken his place for the 2013 season, Herity enjoyed that summer.
But he knew from a long way out that 2014 it would be his last year with the hurlers.
A challenge match against Waterford IT in January 2014 confirmed it. On a freezing night, the cold rattled his shoulder and the injury caused headaches again.
Murphy was now the undisputed first choice but Herity did everything he did to contribute.
He set up the team's WhatsApp group that's still going strong and began working in the National Athlete Development Academy (NADA) in Dublin, concentrating on becoming a more explosive athlete.
His chance arrived when Murphy sustained an elbow injury late on against Galway in the Leinster semi-final replay. Herity played in the Leinster final against Dublin and the All-Ireland semi-final win over Limerick, the latter a game he believes he was unfairly castigated for.
Herity stopped a few efforts going over the bar and his general strategy in dreadful weather conditions was to bat the ball rather than run the risk of having it slip from his grasp. It was his last game for the Kilkenny hurlers but the accomplished dual player captained the footballers to victory in the British junior championship last year.
He smiles: "One thing I loved, we got our medals the same night as the hurlers received their All-Ireland medals. I went up for my medal and got a standing ovation from the hurlers." Respect, acknowledgement.
"If, and hopefully when, the lads win three-in-a-row, I'll know that I helped to create it with the games I played in 2014. Maybe then I can start burying the hatchet with some of the historical stuff. . . maybe."
You can read more from David Herity ahead of Sunday's final by visiting www.sportstalk.ie
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