Thursday 5 December 2019

'Forgotten man' Gregan ready for second coming after two-year injury nightmare

Brian Gregan: Looking towards Tokyo. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Brian Gregan: Looking towards Tokyo. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Cathal Dennehy

Brian Gregan was the top-performing Irish athlete on the track at the World Championships in London in 2017. For the next two years he was a nobody - injured, absent, anonymous.

"I felt like the forgotten man," he said at the launch of Joma as official performance and sportswear partner to Athletics Ireland.

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"It was demoralising. I was anxious, stressed, doubting my ability. Would I ever get back?"

The 29-year-old Dubliner hasn't finished a race since 2017, but he's adamant the final chapter in his career is yet to be written.

Few know the road he has walked to be where he is now: happy, healthy and looking to 2020 with Tokyo still on his horizon. His work with sport psychologist Kate Kirby at the Sport Ireland Institute has taught him to stop looking too far ahead, a habit that often contributed to his anxiety and stress.

Training under John Shields, Gregan had to restrain his appetite for overtraining. It's perhaps why the wheels fell off in the first place. In 2017, he lowered his 400m PB to 45.26 and was shaping into a medal contender for the European Championships the following year.

But a nagging pain in his ankle kept his ambition shackled, Gregan bailing on Berlin - and his season - in mid-July.

Medics at the Sport Ireland Institute suspected a bone bruise in his ankle but an MRI scan was inconclusive, and as the months passed and two cortisone injections proved ineffective, he was no closer to a cure. But late last year a new doctor arrived at the Institute, James O'Donovan, and he suspected something more sinister.

Gregan was sent for a CT scan, which revealed a stress fracture in his lower tibia along with an osteophyte (bone spur).

Gregan was referred to James Calder, a renowned surgeon in London who works with Premier League players, and he went under the knife just before Christmas, with pins inserted into his tibia while the bone spur was pared down.

Achilles and hamstring issues put paid to his track season in 2019, but Gregan is back to health and eyeing a return in 2020. Working part-time as director of sport at the Institute of Education, he's found a better balance these days, and he finds talking to students about his career bolsters his own confidence.

"If I've done it before," he says. "I can do it again."

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