Sunday 21 January 2018

Conlon getting back to his best after injury scare

Declan Rooney hears how the Clare forward didn't know which direction he was playing

17 June 2012; John Conlon, Clare. Munster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Semi-Final, Clare v Waterford, Semple Stadium, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
17 June 2012; John Conlon, Clare. Munster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Semi-Final, Clare v Waterford, Semple Stadium, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Declan Rooney

He tells the story in a jovial manner, but it was no laughing matter. A bang on the head five minutes into a Munster championship game with Cork left Clare's John Conlon fumbling for familiar things to grab on to.

He had his hurl, he had his helmet; and he knew he was playing at the Gaelic Grounds. What way he was shooting was another story.

Finally after keeping up the act, Conlon was withdrawn from the battlefield after 19 minutes and was rushed to the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Limerick with seriously elevated blood pressure. It was some way to celebrate his 24th birthday.

The blow to the head had left him puzzled and lost. So much so he believed one of the paramedics who told him he had scored four points before his withdrawal.

"I have no memory of being on the field after I got hit," admits Conlon. "Supposedly I was putting my arm around William Egan and asking which way the team were playing. I was doing the same with Davy. I suppose it is funny to look back on it now, but wasn't funny at the time."

Conlon was accompanied to the emergency department by his mother and girlfriend, who were summoned across the tannoy in the Gaelic Grounds. Not a pleasant journey to make for his loved ones.

"I remember one thing inside in the Gaelic Grounds alright, telling them not to ring my father because he wouldn't answer the phone as he would be too involved in the match.

"Jaysus, I was telling my mother: 'I got four points did I?' And she just said, 'No John, you only lasted five minutes'. That was my first time getting a blow like that and it is not something I would like to repeat again. I was released that night. It was more just to watch me.

"But (afterwards) I thought there was somebody robbing the house. There were just things going through my head. Things were coming back into my head, like when we won the first round of the club championship."

After the game, Davy Fitzgerald lambasted the match officials for failing to allow Conlon time to be fully assessed after his injury. Conlon says Davy is big on the welfare of his players.

"Knowing myself, I probably got up myself and ran on. I didn't realise how bad things were until I went over to Davy a few times. He came into the hospital that night I got concussed and he was on the phone a few days later. And, as my mother said, he really treats us as one of his own, he'd die for any of us. He would defend us to the hilt regardless of whether we win or lose. That's important, that's what you want; you don't want anybody giving out about you.

"Before he came in, we would have heard the stories in LIT and Waterford, the complete and professional set-up they had and he has brought that to Clare. We have given up our lives and that's what you want, a professional set-up. In fairness, all the top teams have that now and if you don't have it you are falling behind."

Conlon admits he found it difficult to return to full-contact hurling after his knock. But now that he has a few games under his belt he is keen to build on his best season to date.

The good form kick-started on Mary Immaculate's run to the Fitzgibbon Cup final – a competition he won with NUI Galway in 2010 – and he carried on at that level through Clare's National League campaign.

But returning to the fold was difficult, no matter how much work he had put in in the previous months.

"In training I was kind of reluctant to go into a few tackles and then I got a bang and I was like, 'Jesus not again'. I got a bit of a headache but I was fine and you have to just get on with these things.

"To be honest, I was flying going into that Cork game. It was probably the best I was ever going and I felt great, so to get that bang was demoralising and it took that Laois game to get me back on track. The last day I could do better I thought, so I am looking forward to the next day to really push it on and so are all the panel.

"We set out to win Munster but the way things have gone now everything has opened up. The championship is wide open now. It is probably one of the best championships for years. But we can see light at the end of the tunnel now."

Sunday Independent

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