Sunday 25 February 2018

'It was inspirational to see how he was able to live life like he did' - Munster's Tommy O'Donnell mourns loss of his brother

Tommy O’Donnell returned to training after a very emotional week. Photo: Sportsfile
Tommy O’Donnell returned to training after a very emotional week. Photo: Sportsfile

My mind definitely wasn't on rugby last week. My eldest brother Gearóid passed away at the age of 33 last Sunday week.

He had battled with Muscular Dystrophy for most of his life, and he had only just been admitted to hospital on the Friday night, but was comfortable. It came as a massive shock to us all when his condition deteriorated so quickly, and he passed away early Sunday morning.

Gearóid was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy which is a genetic degenerative muscular disorder when he was eight years old and then he became wheelchair-bound at the age of 14.

Despite his condition, Gearóid was determined to live his own life, his way. He was an avid student and historian. Upon completing his Leaving Cert, he went on to study Arts in University College Cork, where he discovered a passion for gaming and became an active member of the WARPS society and travelled throughout the country to the different gaming conventions.

The accessibility of Cork City appealed massively to Gearóid's desire for independence and he had his own house in Cork and even hosted my youngest brother Ciarán when he attended CIT. He was incredibly independent even up until the time he was hospitalised and passed away.

The knowledge that Gearóid was a huge Munster supporter has kept coming back to me this week. For a guy who didn't really follow sport at all when he was younger, as soon as I became more involved with Munster at underage and eventually senior level, he became a massive, avid rugby fan.

He loved to attend games in Irish Independent Park with it being only a stone's throw from his house and he knew everyone; he could rhyme off all their positions and stats. He was as good as any pundit or commentator if you sat down and quizzed him. For a guy who never played the game, he had a fantastic strategic mind. He knew exactly what was going on and where exactly a game had been won or lost.

While this was an incredibly personal setback for all of us, it is nice for me to be able to talk about Gearóid here. He was such a big Munster fan and an incredibly strong person, and for me it was inspirational to see how he was able to live life like he did with such a diagnosis.

All along we knew that he might have a limited time with us, we just didn't think it was going to come that soon. I can truly say that he was a man that didn't count the years but made the years count.

So last week was a time to be together as a family. I spent the week in Tipperary, grabbing a few bits in Limerick and heading home to Tipperary again. It was just about being together. It was hugely tough on everyone. It has been a hard two weeks, and will continue to be hard but we must go on with life.

* * * * *

After the events of last week it was tough to turn my head back to rugby, but knowing that I had an injury to rehab really gave me something to focus on. I re-injured my A/C joint against Ulster, I shipped a couple of heavy hits on the shoulder and then while being cleaned out from a ruck I managed to re-injure it.

While I felt great after my recent comeback, having another A/C joint injury has me back to square one again, and once more I have to make sure this shoulder is right before I get back. This time we're going to look at a slightly different avenue for the rehab to be ready for the rigours of rugby again.

The surgeon was happy for me to avoid surgery and pursue the rehab route as it is the much preferred option for this injury, but it is important that I don't rush it. If you come back early and force it, you'll just set yourself back more.

We have a rough idea of the rehab period give or take a week either way depending on progress but I should be on target to be in contention for game time for Munster's games during the Six Nations. Whenever I'm right to go I'll be back.

Hopefully when I am back and available there will be European silverware to fight for as well as the Guinness PRO14, and at the weekend I sat down to watch the Racing game, which was hugely entertaining. You could say points were left behind by us, but you could also say we were lucky at the same time. Chatting to some of the lads, they were well impressed with the U Arena. It looks like a disco, with the lights, music and dancers around the place. It was almost like Madison Square Garden. Drop in a new floor and it could be hosting a concert the next day.

We'll be concentrated on Thomond Park this weekend though, and after our meeting with Castres earlier in the competition, I don't think anyone is expecting an easy outing. I played against them in round one and it was a real tough encounter.

The physicality was right up there and we also had to deal with the heat in the south of France at that stage of the season, and they are playing even better rugby now in my opinion

They put a lot of points on Leicester at the weekend, so they are still in the hunt and might fancy a good crack at an away game. We have to approach this game properly, go get an early lead, work our way to the win, and then worry about a bonus point after that.

Being at home in the quarter-finals would be amazing. From a tactical point of view, it's a help, but just from a financial point of view for the club it is worth so much.

We are in a good position: a win of any kind will do us for qualification, but a bonus-point win would be even better.

Irish Independent

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