Monday 19 February 2018

Surgery on heart won't keep Phelan down as he makes return

Phelan had to call time on his budding inter-county career in the mid-2000s when a health screening session with Kilkenny highlighted a leaky heart valve. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Phelan had to call time on his budding inter-county career in the mid-2000s when a health screening session with Kilkenny highlighted a leaky heart valve. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Michael Verney

It's nearly two years since Conor Phelan underwent surgery to replace an aortic valve in his heart.

Such procedures keep most people down but last weekend the 33-year-old made a competitive return late on as last year's Kilkenny champions Clara fell to Ballyhale in the SHC semi-finals.

Phelan has built up a remarkable mental resistance since having to call time on his budding inter-county career in the mid-2000s when a health screening session with Kilkenny highlighted a leaky heart valve.

After winning an All-Ireland senior medal alongside Cats greats DJ Carey and Henry Shefflin in 2003, hurling looked to have been taken away from him, but Kilkenny explored every avenue in search of an "informed view".

It was decided that he could continue to play with Clara; an intermediate club All-Ireland was claimed, and two Kilkenny senior titles followed in "a rollercoaster ride".

Phelan, joint-manager of the Ireland U-21 Shinty/Hurling side to play Scotland on Saturday, is relieved to be able to tell the tale.

Fortunate

"I feel very fortunate. You look at Anthony Foley there, may he rest in peace, it puts things in perspective. A double-edged sword. Very fortunate I knew about it," Phelan says.

"I was 21, on the crest of a wave, thought the world was my oyster. My generation, Tommy (Walsh), JJ (Delaney), Taggy (Aidan Fogarty) went on to win multiple All-Irelands.

"That's probably the regret. But I had a great three years involved. Lucky that the Kilkenny county board took the initiative to get us all in and get screened. Only for that, I wouldn't know where I'd be now."

The Waterford IT GAA promotion officer must go for a similar surgery in 12-13 years to replace the valve again but until that procedure comes around, he has no intention of slowing down.

"The surgeon said try and use it if you can - you went through all this hardship to be able to be active and fit and be able to work on a farm so it's great to have an opportunity to do that."

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