Tuesday 28 January 2020

Club dream lifts Parlon after litany of injuries

The Coolderry star is not one for quitting, writes Marie Crowe

Marie Crowe

When Coolderry's Cathal Parlon was 17, he had the hurling world at his feet. He scored five points for his club in their county final win over Birr, he was called up to the Offaly senior panel and he had just started college in Waterford IT.

Parlon grew up during a golden era for hurling, a time when Offaly won two All-Irelands and both young and old were obsessed with the county team. So when Parlon got the call to join the senior panel, it was a dream come true. Although he was living in Waterford as a student, he made the trip to Offaly several times a week for training in the hope of making the team. Parlon trained hard but within a few months he was sidelined with a broken kneecap.

The following year the teenager made the panel again, and played his way into the Offaly team. He made his debut against Kilkenny in the Leinster championship on a day to be forgotten as Offaly suffered a 31-point loss. Three games later, they were dumped out of the qualifiers and Parlon was out of the game after suffering a cruciate knee injury. It was a devastating blow for the teenager but again he was determined to recover and get back on the panel.

Unfortunately, his injury came at the end of the season so there was no urgency on his return; also he was only a fringe player so he felt getting his knee sorted wasn't a priority for the county board. Parlon found the process slow. He was left waiting months to see doctors and surgeons and this meant his chances of getting right for the following season were fading fast.

Having worked out how long it would take to recover from the operation and how long he needed for rehab, he was acutely aware that his planned return to hurling was slipping further and further away.

Eventually, after an agonising few months of waiting, Parlon took matters into his own hands. He organised the operation himself which luckily was covered by his family insurance. However, as a result of the injury Parlon couldn't work, and although he made regular contact with the Offaly County Board for loss of earnings, it took a year to get sorted.

"It was a very tough situation to be in at 19 years old," explained Parlon. "I just wanted to be back hurling. I understand that when the resources aren't there they simply aren't there but when there is so much expected of players in terms of demands, their health should at least be looked after.

"The reality is that there isn't a set system in place to deal with situations like mine, there is no one you can really call upon. In a way I wanted to get back and be successful so I could be in a position to highlight the issue and hopefully stop it happening in the future."

Parlon's hard work paid off, and after a gruelling year of rehab he was hurling again; not only was he fit but he'd worked hard in the gym too and got physically stronger. However, only a few months after recovery disaster struck again, he broke his other kneecap.

For three consecutive years Parlon had to deal with injury, he hadn't hurled for more than two months in a row but he found solace in his club, Coolderry. "No matter what happens your club is always there, even if you are gone for a few years they welcome you back with open arms. When I was injured I realised how important the club is to me. They gave me loads of encouragement."

Parlon is 25 now, he's back hurling for Offaly and since he recovered from his last injury has won a Fitzgibbon Cup, two Offaly county championships, a Leinster club title and is just days away from an All-Ireland club final.

And while everything is going to plan on the hurling front, off the pitch Parlon has fallen victim to the demise of the Celtic Tiger. He did a degree and masters in architectural technology in Waterford IT but finds himself unemployed.

"I could move away to get work and sometimes I think I will but I know ultimately when it comes down to it I won't sacrifice hurling. I want to give it a go while I still can. I always thought that I'd get to 30 and I'd have a house and a steady job. It's a worry for me now that it might not happen but I'm not the only one in that situation. There are eight of us unemployed on the panel, we meet up for gym sessions and look forward to training, we're lucky that we've had the club championship to distract us."

If they beat Loughgiel in next Saturday's All-Ireland final, one of Parlon's dreams will be realised, if they don't, he'll keep trying to make it happen. He's not in the habit of giving up easy.

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