'They wouldn't let me get up off the bed - that was scary'
It was shortly before midday yesterday when Eoghan Donnellan received the news that he'd been waiting for.
He was free to leave the National Spinal injuries unit at Dublin's Mater Hospital - and thankfully able to walk out of there.
As Ballyea were busy collecting a maiden Clare senior hurling title last Sunday, 23-year-old Donnellan was confined to a ward in Limerick's regional hospital, recovering from the effects of a terrifying training-ground injury.
It happened last Friday week during a practice match, as Donnellan recalls: "I remember it. One of the balls went in, fell out of my hand and as I went to pick it up, I turned to my right at the same time.
"It was a split second thing, as I received a shoulder into the head and my head went down, I fell backwards and felt the shock through my left-hand side."
Remarkably, Donnellan picked himself up and continued, thinking it was merely a muscular problem. But when the area became swollen, he made a trip to A&E for an X-ray.
He was sent home but called back the next morning, as a specialist had noted something in his scans to concern him. When Donnellan arrived back to the Regional, he was placed in a protective collar immediately, and underwent further tests, CAT and MRI scans.
"It was scary then," admits Donnellan, who plays club football with Clondegad. "They wouldn't let me get up off the bed, collar on straight away. That was the scariest part of it. Two fractured vertebrae on my left-hand side."
On the following Wednesday, Donnellan was informed that he would probably have to undergo surgery at the Mater, but the next few days were spent waiting for an available bed.
On Sunday, he tuned into Clare FM and listened as Ballyea beat Clonlara in a replay to lift the Canon Hamilton Cup. On another day, he'd have been lining out at full-forward, as he had in the drawn match.
"Even all last week, I was saying in my own head 'I have to get out for the match'. But I had to stay in, I listened to the radio, shaking with nerves for a finish.
"I was definitely more nervous listening on the radio than had I been there. I was delighted and sad at the same time, but it would have been a lot worse if they lost."
That morning, team-mate and training travelling companion Brian Carrigg texted him. It would be the first game all year that they hadn't been together for. "We'll do it for you," Carrigg vowed.
Later that evening, Carrigg arrived to the hospital with Canon Hamilton, along with selector Raymond O'Connor, better known as 'Reggie'.
A primary school teacher at St Dominic's in Tallaght, Donnellan spent a day and a half in the Mater, having been transferred from Limerick by ambulance, before being given the all-clear to go home.
And he's planning to attend Sunday's Munster club semi-final against Thurles Sarsfields at Cusack Park.
Thankfully, he didn't have to undergo surgery but he will have to wear a body brace, which runs from his forehead down to his belly button, for 12 weeks. The fact that he was young and fit, Donnellan was informed, probably prevented him from sustaining far more serious, and potentially permanent, damage.
With his neck held firmly in position, the healing process will happen naturally.
"There's only nine beds here for the whole of Ireland," Donnellan explained yesterday, before leaving the Mater. "I was well looked after, it's fantastic.
"I'll definitely go next Sunday. It was paining me enough that I couldn't last Sunday. But I'm able to walk around with full movement.
"As for work, I'll have to find out from the school itself what the story is, if I'm insured to teach. But I'd be driven mad for 12 weeks doing nothing. I'm there since last year, it's a brilliant school and I was so lucky to get into it.
"I happened to hand in a CV, got a few days subbing and a job at the end of the year. I'll be out (of hurling) for a while but I have everything and that's the most important thing, being able to stand up in the morning and I'm okay."
Meanwhile, Thurles Sarsfields are sweating on the fitness of Tipperary's All-Ireland winning corner-back Michael Cahill ahead of Sunday's tie, with in-form attacker Richie Ruth also a concern.
Cahill went off with 12 minutes remaining in last Sunday's quarter-final victory over Ballygunner after tweaking a hamstring, while the experienced Ruth is awaiting the results of a scan on his injured knee that also forced him off prematurely.
Sarsfields are hoping to avoid the Cusack Park minefield for the second time in three years, after losing to Cratloe there two years ago in the Munster semi-final.