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Miracle man


James McDonald celebrates winning
the Wexford club senior hurling title alongside his
St Martin's team-mate Ciaran Lyng

James McDonald celebrates winning the Wexford club senior hurling title alongside his St Martin's team-mate Ciaran Lyng

James McDonald celebrates winning the Wexford club senior hurling title alongside his St Martin's team-mate Ciaran Lyng

crushed and bleeding, James McDonald -- a student who only moments before sat stationary on his bike, feet on the ground, waiting for the opportune moment to cross Dublin's Griffith Avenue -- is seconds from death.

Reckless, crazy driving by a lorry driver turning a corner.

Huge wheels mount the pavement, puny bicycle metal and rubber disintegrates like an envelope thoughtlessly scrunched up prior to being tossed into a waste paper basket.

Slow-motion destruction of bone, sinew, ligament, toes, feet, legs by those impersonal mechanical truck wheels.

Lower body is crumbling in this unequal match of human tissue versus tons of internal combustion engine powered vehicle.

Die? Survive? No time to think. Instinct kicks in.

Raw fitness, youth, defiance and inestimable fractions of luck combine to start changing what seems inevitable.

The boy's fingers and arms scrabble for purchase on the tarmac of the road.

They dig in like a mountaineer's pitons as if by force of will the hard road surface could yield a handhold.

Blood flows from the lacerations of the hands but the hurler's hand strength and upper-body muscularity brings movement forward and sideways.

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Luck, or fate, or blessing, whatever you wish to call it, plays its part.

The first impact is low enough on the body to allow the brain a micro-second or two to seek a way out and the lad's fitness, honed by years of hurling and cross-country running, tuned by a recent skiing holiday, powers the frantic scramble for life.


Mercifully the lunatic driver and his truck of destruction roll over and off the body.

Justice would see him put off the road for ever. There is no justice.

He hits, he runs, and it all happens too quickly for witnesses to get a registration number.

Unmercifully, the boy is conscious.

The pain is excruciating. He looks at his lower body, sees white shards of bone piercing out through the legs; further down, the feet are "a stew of bones popping out".

Date: Friday, January 12, 2001. Time: 3.25 pm.

At 3.23pm, Mc-Donald -- Wexford's Young Hurler of the Year for 2000, a hurling scholar-ship student at DCU, and a member of the Wexford senior county panel -- thinks of nothing more than getting back to his digs and having some tea after playing a match for his college.

At 3.26pm on 12/01/01, he is writhing in agony on Griffith Avenue, lower body in tatters, groaning in agony, shock setting in.

Now it's 3.25pm on Tuesday, November 11, 2008 -- day 2,860 since that fateful collision.

Sitting in the Octagon Bar of Dublin's Clarence Hotel is James McDonald -- slim, wiry, fit.

He speaks of hurling, of winning a Wexford senior county championship medal with his club St Martin's, of the Leinster Club Hurling semi-final against Leinster kingpins Birr this Sunday, of a life literally rebuilt from the bones of his feet upwards.

Try this for size: In just over seven years McDonald has made a miracle comeback to hurling; gained a BA in Journalism, worked with the 'Sunday World', studied law and become a barrister, is a writer on the hit RTE comedy satire show 'Nob Nation' and has his own consultancy business, aptly named 'Model Communications', whose clients include key Fianna Fail people such as former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

And by the way, he founded the first hurling club to play out of the King's Inns, the legal institution which opened in 1541 during the reign of King Henry VIII.

An impressive CV indeed, but one which is a direct result of his brush with death.

"I've had a life review, and it has given me a new perspective. Life is not a rehearsal," he says. In that context, he is somewhat reluctant to discuss the detail of the accident.

To him, the story has been told, has been lived. Only McDonald and those closest to him know exactly what it took to regain the right to walk unaided, and beyond that, to play hurling again.

Gratitude and respect beyond measure is expressed to Mr Martin Walsh, the Mater Hospital surgeon who saved his leg from amputation.

Walsh, who for years assisted the Irish soccer team, went against the opinion of many of his colleagues when he expressed to McDonald his belief that he could play hurling again.

This at a time when fellow surgeons reckoned McDonald would be lucky to walk.

Luck is a theme he returns to when he reflects on his life since the accident, but first, the immediate aftermath.

"Martin Walsh is a phenomenal surgeon; he did fantastically well to piece back together those legs and feet.

"I was in a wheelchair for almost five-and-a-half months, and on crutches for about four or five months afterwards.

"But I stayed positive and when I could get going, I just got the head down and worked like a demon to get fit.

"Physiotherapy, aquatherapy, gym, I just got into it, and I had great support from my family and Niamh, my girlfriend at that time.

"Liam Griffin, who was my manager on the Wexford minor team, was also very positive.

"I suppose I made that comeback for my family and myself; first of all to show it could be done; secondly for my club; but also for the doctors who put me back together.

"It seems a long time ago now, probably because I'm fit again. It was really, really tough but it would be nice to put it on the record that I made the comeback."

So tell us about luck, James.

"Well, if the accident hadn't happened, I would not have worked for the 'Sunday World', which was one of the best times in my life; I certainly wouldn't have founded the King's Inn club and I wouldn't have become a barrister.

"I suppose you could describe me as probably the unluckiest GAA player in Ireland and one of the luckiest people in life.

"I survived the accident. I've been incredibly lucky in business. I've combined my media and law experience and I'm an adviser and consultant to companies and individuals, so that's going great.

"Hurling hasn't been as lucky for me.

"First there was the accident. Then I played for St Martin's up to the quarter-finals and I was playing well, but I got a savage calf injury and later a finger injury.

" I was out for 10 weeks in all with those injuries, so I didn't get back for the semi-final and they couldn't change a winning team for the final.

"I was just about to come on against Oulart in the county final but the ref blew the whistle. It didn't matter.

"I was so happy to win the medal, just my own little token for myself and to win a county championship with the players I'd grown up with was fantastic.

"Now I'm fit and ready if required for Birr.

"We know Birr are the favourites, but we have some great players and if we hurl to our best, we can certainly give them a match."

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