Munster's Varley 'gutted' to call career short with injury
Munster hooker Damien Varley said he was "gutted" when he found out his rugby career was over. The news was given to him the day before Munster played Saracens in a key Champions Cup game last month.
That evening the injured 31-year-old went ahead with a scheduled questions and answers gig in a London pub for supporters, keeping a brave face
"I was surrounded by well-wishers and people asking me when I am coming back. It was probably getting a bit too much when you are trying to put off the inevitable, hiding what we were doing.
"I was gutted," he said. "It took me a few hours to get my head around it and dry off the tears before going to the gig. I obviously didn't tell anyone at the time and you have to give it time to sink in. I am pretty gutted and still trying to get my head around it. I am not the first to retire and I am certainly not going to be the last but it takes a bit of time to get your head around it."
The Limerick man started to fear the worst when an injury picked up in pre-season in the summer of 2013 would just not clear up and surgery in October did not provide the solution.
"I struggled with it throughout last season, we tried to manage with it as best we could be ultimately it was destructive as well and led to my attempt to comeback in October and ultimately failing that.
"The problem is a material called fascia in the heel. It just kept ripping from my heel so the surgery was to cut it off completely. I got two-thirds of it removed and the remaining third is still causing issues. We investigated when cutting the rest of it off would be something we could do but it would have led to a few more problems down the line so it puts us in this position.
"I still have to rehab it. I am still in pain and still struggling to walk at times so I will still be around and rehabbing and trying to get fit, but rugby is gone," said the Garryowen clubman who is contracted to the end of the season and who played 121 times for Munster and won three Irish caps.
A talented musician, he may explore something in that field, while a degree in biomedical engineering gives him options as well, but for now coaching or another role in rugby is not on the horizon.
"I am going to step away from the game. I want to give myself a few months and assess everything and see what the next chapter is. It is tough enough when one is closing so the next few months, seeing out the rest of the season with the lads will be tough enough so I won't jump into any big decisions at the minute."
He did not come through the academy and had to battle for recognition with Munster, citing his decision to join Wasps as key factor in his home province sitting up and taking notice.
And as he bows out at a time when the spotlight is on rugby's high casualty rate, he noted that he was the latest Munster hooker in a long line including Keith Wood, Frankie Sheahan and Jerry Flannery, all of whom had to cut their careers short because of injury.
"I think everyone who has finished before me in the hooking positions has retired through injury and it will go that way beyond me. It's a frustrating process."
But he leaves the game with a lot of great memories.
"There are so many. Winning the Magners League was a big thing for us and playing Australia, but being part of the collective group and not just from a rugby point of view, the players, coaches, people I have worked with, it's definitely the people rather than any victory.
"It's very hard to pinpoint one thing. It has certainly been an emotional journey and one I will look back on fondness."