Monday 22 January 2018

'It's not just protocol - you're not fit to play'

Kevin Downes from Na Piarsaigh after receiving the Munster Club Hurler at the Year award at Croke Park (SPORTSFILE)
Kevin Downes from Na Piarsaigh after receiving the Munster Club Hurler at the Year award at Croke Park (SPORTSFILE)

Michael Verney

It's a place no sportsperson wants to be but after feeling fatigued and dizzy, Kevin Downes felt there was no choice but to sit out Na Piarsaigh's Munster club SHC final.

An innocuous knock on the head under a high ball in the dying seconds of their semi-final victory informed him that it was a wise move to walk towards the sidelines to seek treatment.

Having suffered a similar fate in 2012, when missing a handful of games for Limerick due to concussion, it was an experience Downes knew all too well and despite the haziness, clarity of mind prevailed.

With only a week between games, the talismanic forward realised it would be best to stay on the sidelines; the cut and thrust of Championship hurling was not what he needed.

Absence

Speaking on receipt of the AIB Munster club hurler of the year award, he acknowledged that he had to trust his team-mates to get the job done in his absence, and they duly obliged.

"I suppose it was fairly apparent on the Wednesday or Thursday that I wasn't going to play. There's nothing you can do only be as positive as you can," Downes said.

"It's very hard to do it but that's all you can do. Apart from the medical side of things, playing a game of hurling wouldn't exactly be ideal with the ball fizzing around you."

But with his side going for a third provincial crown in five years, was he tempted to keep schtum and deal with the consequences over the winter?

"I was going into our team doctor Dave Boylan every day but it's very hard to say from the start, 'yes you are concussed'. You have to give it a few days, but the symptoms weren't going away so the game was out," he said.

"In fairness to Dave, he was very straight down the line. He wasn't a Na Piarsaigh man with this decision. If there were any doubts I wasn't going to play, and it was a joint decision. People were saying it was just protocol, but I just wasn't fit to play."

Everyday tasks became arduous: looking at television led to blurred vision, tiredness set in quickly, his eyes strained, slight movements affected him and he had a pale appearance.

Lee Keegan's condition after colliding with Eoin Cadogan on Sunday struck a chord with Downes and he believes "it was blatantly obvious he should have come off".

"I don't think Dave would have put me on if I was in that state," he noted. "But incidents like the Lee Keegan one, will make it more public. Mayo came out and said he should have come off - and he should have.

"It is a serious injury. People were saying to me that it was just protocol that wasn't allowing me to play, but the symptoms don't allow you to play. Bar the obvious dangers, the symptoms alone will stop you."

Despite displaying a gash on his ear after a feisty training game, the 24-year-old is now fully fit and raring to go as Na Piarsaigh look to make it third-time lucky in All-Ireland semi-finals. Losses to eventual champions Loughgiel Shamrocks (2012) and Portumna (2014) is "no consolation" but Downes stresses that they have developed positively from defeat.

"We feel we've learned from previous defeats and hopefully we're in a good place, we'll find out very shortly. Are there things we can work on? Things to change? Definitely," he said.

The full-forward admits it "isn't pretty looking back", particularly on the Loughgiel game, but he doesn't feel hamstrung by their semi-final setbacks or Limerick's lack of success, both at county and club level.

No Treaty side has lifted the Tommy Moore Cup and the county team haven't seen national success since 1973; interestingly, Oulart-The Ballagh recently ended their own hoodoo in Leinster. And with the shackles off, Downes is well aware of the dangers the Wexford men will pose this Saturday in Semple Stadium.

"It was a massive deal for them to win Leinster and I'm sure they'll be going out saying, 'express yourself'. I think they'll be very confident and we'll have our work cut out," he said.

A wise head on young shoulders, Downes' influence might just swing it.

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