Wednesday 25 April 2018

McLaughlin: I still haven't cleared out my Leinster locker

Kevin McLaughlin
Kevin McLaughlin

Michael Verney

One moment the sporting world is at your feet, the next it's cruelly taken away without warning.

Kevin McLaughlin had just realised a sporting dream when named Leinster captain but now he's struggling to get to grips with never playing rugby again.

Three weeks ago, the 31-year-old announced his retirement on medical grounds after suffering a concussion against Glasgow. He is still battling with reality.

"It's beginning to hit me that I won't be playing rugby again. But I still haven't cleared out my locker yet, that'll be a big moment," McLaughlin said.

"The first week when after retiring was absolutely manic with the press release and I was overwhelmed with the support that I received.

"It's been OK the last few weeks and I've begun to accept that it's time to move on.

"I've been able to reflect the last few weeks and I'm planning now for my next step going forward."

Speaking of the future, a good friend came knocking right away with an opportunity that made his life-changing situation easier to come to terms with.

McLaughlin foraged in the pack with Leo Cullen for many years and he offered him a mentoring/coaching role with Leinster.

The Dubliner jumped at the chance to maintain interest in a province that he has put his heart and soul into since 2007.

"I was very keen to stay involved because retiring in the context of waking up and having nothing to do and having no career sorted out was very depressing," he admitted.

"But retiring and being able to hang around and phase out my involvement in rugby sat a lot easier with me."

With 19 Leinster players and a wealth of knowledge away on World Cup duty with Ireland, wise heads are needed to help guide the exciting talent through the ranks now more than ever.

"I've been in helping out the young lads where I can. Helping to prepare lineouts and trying to take a little bit of the pressure off Leo," McLaughlin said.

"I'm just trying to be a presence around the place. It's such a young inexperienced squad right now and I think the more older experienced lads you can have around the better."

The combative flanker, capped eight times by Ireland, feels no ill effects of the knocks to the head despite heeding the advice of medical experts to call it a day.

"I have no symptoms, I feel absolutely perfect, but a decision was made by the neurologist that I had to retire so I wasn't going to argue with him," he said.

"I was very lucky because it was the Leinster medical staff who encouraged me to see a neurologist so the decision was taken out of my hands. The medical staff put me first."

Head injuries have received huge media attention in recent years and RTE's documentary entitled Hidden Impact: Rugby and Concussion received McLaughlin's seal of approval.

With concussion, he acknowledges the main problem is not being able to appreciate the severity of the injury.

But the two-time Heineken Cup winner is living proof of the continuous change in mentality to the condition.

"It was good for people to have that kind of awareness. My cousin plays on the J2s with Monkstown and he got a bang on the head at the weekend," he explains.

"He said before watching the programme he never would have realised it was a concussion. But as a result he took himself off.

"Creating that awareness is what the IRFU have been trying to do with leaflets etc, but a programme like that really hits home."

The case of former team-mate John Fogarty, who retired in 2010 after suffering repeated concussion, was one case study highlighted on the programme.

Seeing first-hand how he has coped with the sudden career change inspired McLaughlin.

"The great thing is I look at him now and he's up and running. He's really happy, he's got a great career as Leinster scrum coach and he's able to tell his story," he said.

"He can encourage guys to be honest in terms of their own situation, so that's very helpful.

"It's one thing hearing the IRFU say it but when it comes from players and peers, I think it's a lot more powerful."

McLaughlin has not embarked upon a detailed analysis of the number of concussions suffered during his career.

Not yet anyway, not while the hurt of retirement is still so fresh on his mind.

"It's all a little bit raw for me. I don't really like going into much detail about my own personal circumstance yet," he reasoned.

"There will be a time when I feel I can come out and talk about it but not at the moment."

Kevin McLaughlin was speaking at the BOAST App preview event

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