Sunday 17 November 2019

Limerick club hands huge boost to MND charity

Club focus: UL Bohemian RFC

Busy week: Billy Holland, Noah Quish (2), Nick McCarthy, Leah Quish (7) and Arno Botha meet at a Life Style Sports event celebrating the charity partnership between Munster Rugby and the Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation. Photo: INPHO
Busy week: Billy Holland, Noah Quish (2), Nick McCarthy, Leah Quish (7) and Arno Botha meet at a Life Style Sports event celebrating the charity partnership between Munster Rugby and the Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation. Photo: INPHO
The UL Bohemians U-13s (wearing red) in action against Bruff
Forward thinker: New forwards coach Graham Rowntree adjusts to his new surroundings at training in UL. Photo: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

The logo of Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association (IMNDA) take pride of place on every senior player's jersey in UL Bohemians.

Michael Clancy is the current president of the club and in October 2016 his life changed forever when he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease.

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But after the initial shock, and the dreaded consultation with Dr Google, he decided to embrace his condition and the rare form that is Pulmonary Lateral Sclerosis (PLS).

Unlike other MND sufferers, the 62-year-old will not die because of his condition and despite his constant battle with the physical effects it has on his body, his mind has never been as enriched.

Being president of one of biggest clubs in Irish rugby has certainly added to his workload this year, but he loves it, and is thrilled with the work UL Bohemians are doing for the organisation.

"They have had fundraising campaigns for the IMNDA," said Clancy.

"The club have been absolutely fantastic to me and the association. So much so, that this year UL Bohs have IMNDA on their sleeve for all of their matches. It's brilliant because it raises the profile.

"The IMNDA are the only association that cares for the MND sufferers, their families and carers, and 86 per cent of their funding is raised by the association. Less than 15 per cent comes from the government.

"We do church gate collections, charity walks; you name it we do it, and it is great to see UL Bohemians doing this for us."

Clancy is originally from Kilrush in County Clare. He attended St Jarlath's Secondary School in Galway and although he started out on the basketball courts and in the swimming pool, eventually he turned his hand to rugby when he was 18.

He began his career on the wing with Kilrush RFC but then decided to make things more interesting, and he was swapped into the front-row where he operated as a hooker.

Clancy played the game for ten years but he never lost his love for the sport, and he later became a referee. After he married his late wife, Monique, they moved to Limerick in 1986, and nine years later he picked up the whistle for the first time.

Clancy had a stellar career as a referee and he was even touch judge for some massive Heineken Cup fixtures where Munster took on Europe's elite.

However, injury caught up with him when he tore a muscle off his pelvic bone during a game between Thomond and Bruff at Liam Fitzgerald Park.

"I was touch judge that day. I turned quickly because there was a defensive block and a kick ahead. I knew the referee wouldn't get there because he was heading for the goal-line and it was a foot race, and I just turned too quickly. It ripped."

He never refereed again but Clancy was the secretary of the Munster Association of Referees for 15 years. All the while he had got more and more involved with UL Bohemians. His son, Adam, wanted to join a rugby club and he chose the nearest to their home in Castletroy.

Clicked

Clancy and UL Bohemians clicked, and now, five months on from becoming president there, he knows just how important the club has been.

"If I didn't have the club in 2016 I am not sure where I would be," said Clancy.

He first started noticing the symptoms when his grip weakened and he began to lose balance two years previously.

Clancy sold and erected blinds for ACME Blinds, but he found it became increasingly more difficult to work.What followed was a visit to his local GP, Dr Michael Griffin, in St John's Square, Limerick. Two years of tests followed. In September 2015, Neurologist Dr Peter Boers first mentioned the possibility of MND.

"At that stage my mind went blank. I did the worst possible thing, went home that evening and Googled it.

"I went bananas. Life still had to go on for me. I still had the blinds company but I was driving around for four days in tears. I didn't know how I would care for my family or my wife."

Things got even worse the following May when Clancy's mother, Celia, a diabetic with advanced dementia, passed away. He gave up work, and then eight weeks later his wife died suddenly.

Clancy stopped trying to hide his condition from others, but he still needed the IMNDA to help set up his appointment to secure the crucial final diagnosis. And Prof Orla Hardiman delivered the news at Beaumont Hospital in October 2016.

Clancy, flanked by his sisters Margaret and Susan, learned he was suffering from PLS and not the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or the 1000-day disease, he had so feared.

"When she said: 'you won't die from MND, you will have a normal life expectancy, it is just your body will deteriorate', instead of giving me a piece of string, she handed me a ball of twine and left me to find both ends."

It was a massive silver-lining after a terrible year and Clancy's life changed for the better.

He was the face of IMNDA's main fundraising campaign, 'Drink Tea for MND', in 2017 and two years later he is living his life to the maximum along with his Pugalier dog, Roxy.

"I go to the club most days in the week," said Clancy. "We have a groundsman, Martin 'Murty' Hanley, he is elderly, but he is still doing the same job he did 30 or 40 years ago. I go down to him most days but it is a mutual thing. If I don't go down to the club he will ring me to make sure I am okay.

"It was an emotional evening when I became president because I didn't think I was deserving of such an honour. I am a volunteer and always have been."

Irish Independent

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