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'It just kept going in training or in games' - How a top Irish rugby prospect suffered 16 shoulder dislocations


Ireland U-20 star Mark Hernan (right) dislocated his shoulder 16 times as a schoolboy. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Ireland U-20 star Mark Hernan (right) dislocated his shoulder 16 times as a schoolboy. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile


Ireland U-20 star Mark Hernan (right) dislocated his shoulder 16 times as a schoolboy. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

It would be a mistake to think Mark Hernan has had it easier because he is another Leinster forward out of St Michael's College.

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Sure, the semi-professional nature of the grounding in the game is a benefit to Ireland's U20 openside in his ultimate goal to play-for-pay.

But, in his case, it wasn't too long ago that he had to cope with the strong possibility that his career was over, almost before it had begun.

"I had two shoulder surgeries, in fourth year and fifth year," said the 2019 Leinster Senior Cup-winning captain.

"I first dislocated it in third year when I was too young to have surgery on it. I had four dislocations that year, played two games in fourth year and dislocated it again."

This is when Hernan had to make the logical decision to have his right shoulder repaired. That didn't go to plan. The issue was not resolved post-surgery, the shoulder popping again – and again.

"It just kept going for the whole year in training or in games. I was doing a down-and-up in fitness one time and it just happened - as simple as that.

"I had 16 shoulder dislocations through those three years," he said.

The first procedure left Hernan nursing the same problem, an untrustworthy shoulder that may betray him at any time.

Still, he soldiered on through fifth year in school, delaying the inevitable until after the Leinster Schools Cup campaign.

"I just had to get through the Cup season and have the second operation after that," he stated.

It was a personal issue for Hernan, undermining his confidence, and a team issue for the coaches, undermining theirs.

“It was tough. It was tough in fifth year, to be honest. There was doubt going into games that it mightn't be solid,” he said.
“Even the coaches said to me that they mightn't be able to trust me, that I could come on and be back off 10 minutes later.

"Because the first surgery went badly. At the end of fifth year, there was uncertainty over whether I could keep going."

The choice was there, take another intervention which would not guarantee success or accept that his body was not made for the bone-rocking contact that is the very basis of rugby.

As a poaching openside, the race to the breakdown hinges on getting your shoulder into the ruck first. If it wouldn't hold up, there would be no place in the game for Hernan.

"In fairness, I got on top of my rehab after the second surgery. Last year was fine, I didn't have any trouble with it. It has been plain sailing from then."

Once Hernan felt secure about his shoulder, it enabled him to lead from the front, building enough confidence to make the Ireland U19s last season and the U20s this season, starting against Scotland last Friday.

"When you are in the heat of battle, you don't think about that stuff. It goes out of your head. You have other things to be thinking of, more important stuff, like what's happening right in front of you."

A tall, lean frame means the 19-year-old has always had to play it smart anyway.

"I wouldn't be your traditional flanker," he shared.

"That is why it has been a big development year for me, trying to put on a lot of size. In fairness, in games, you have to be smarter, using your weight because you're not going to be able to smash lads at every collision.

"I've coped well enough up through 18s, 19s and playing in schools has been fine. It is just, over the next few years, I have to put that bulk on for the years ahead."

What goes for Hernan personally, goes for the Ireland squad collectively ahead of round two of the Six Nations against Wales on Friday night (7.15pm, RTÉ 2).

"We are not going in naive about being the biggest team in the competition. I wouldn't say we are using that to our advantage.

"But, we are putting a huge emphasis on basic skills and that will probably move the bigger teams when we play them."

Online Editors