Saturday 18 November 2017

'Doctors told my Dad that they might lose me' - Shane Duffy on the injury that nearly cost him his life

Shane Duffy had life-saving surgery after lacerating his liver in 2010
Shane Duffy had life-saving surgery after lacerating his liver in 2010
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

As Shane Duffy peels back his tracksuit top to reveal the evidence of the accident that so nearly cost him his life, the scale of his trauma takes the breath away.

The Ireland defender displays the shocking reversed L-shaped scar that starts just below his left breastbone and weaves its way towards his left hip with a casual air that does not befit the evidence he is displaying, but this may be how he has come to terms with his near death experience.

May 21st 2010 will forever be etched into Duffy’s story as a defining moment.

It was nearly the last day on this earth for an 18-year-old Derry-born centre-back who came close to being immortalised for the most tragic reason imaginable.

If fate had rolled in a different direction on that fateful afternoon, Duffy could have become the first footballer to die from injuries sustained playing for Ireland, as an accidental collision with goalkeeper Adrian Walsh while he was playing for an international development side so nearly ended in an unimaginable tragedy.

With an artery to his liver lacerated and Duffy gasping for breath and crippled by excruciating pain, blood gushed into his abdomen at an alarming rate and were it not for the swift work of FAI doctors, the defender now excelling in the Premier League with Brighton and on the international stage may have been lost.

Duffy lost 3.6 litres of blood (around two-thirds of his supply) in the moments after the clash and within a couple of hours, life saving surgery was being performed on him by Dr Gerry McEntee at Dublin’s Mater Hospital.

His horrified father Brian looked on from the stands as his son was carried away in agony and that was only the start of a desperate few hours when he was informed that his boy may not survive the day.

This was a nightmare no one was prepared for and as Duffy talks about his brush with death in an emotional interview with Independent.ie, he does so with a stoic calmness that does not to do justice to the gravity of the tale he has to tell.

“This injury is a big part of my life and I don’t mind talking about it,” begins the 25-year-old Brighton defender, who defied medics fears to overcome his injuries and build a hugely successful career.

“People are more aware of this incident than ever before and I appreciate that it is an interesting story. I suppose this may have been the first time people heard my name and now that I am playing in the Premier League and with Ireland, it’s natural that people will ask about it.

“This wasn’t an injury you would expect on a football field. It was the kind of injury you expect to get from a car crash, but I had to get on with it. There is no point looking back wondering what could have happened.

“I don’t wake up in the morning and think about that day and it has never crossed my mind in training or during a game. I would never fear going in for a header or throwing myself at a cross and if I did, there would have been no way back for me as a footballer.

“I only think about the accident when people talk to me about it and I can honestly say it didn’t affect me psychologically or from a sporting perspective. I didn’t go for counseling or anything like that. It wouldn’t really be my kind of thing. You just get on with it.

“The doctors and the surgeons did something amazing for me that day and I will forever be grateful to them. If that match was being played somewhere else in the world, maybe in a different country where the facilities are not so good, I don’t think I would have had the same outcome. I consider myself quite lucky.”

Duffy goes on to opine that the scars on his torso are nothing compared to the shock his parents Siobhan and Brian went through as they waited to discover if their son would survive.

“My Dad was at the game and speaking to him about the day, he says it was clear straight away how serious it was,” continues Duffy. “The doctors told my Dad that they might lose me, which must have been a huge shock for him.

“He had a couple of hours to wait before he would know if I would make it. I have two kids of my own now, so I appreciate what that must have been like to be told your son might be about to die.

“I was not aware of what was going on at the time. I was in a hospital bed, out of it, with doctors trying to save my life, but my Mam and Dad must have gone through hell over those few hours.

“Looking back now, the whole thing must have been much more mentally difficult than it was for me, but it has worked out okay in the end.”

Duffy’s rapid rise from obscurity with amateur side Foyle Harps to Premier League stardom was temporarily halted by the injury that put his name in the headlines for the first time, with the kid making his way through the ranks at Everton forced to drop down the leagues in English football to rebuild his career.

He lost nearly three stone in weight in the weeks after the injury - going from 90kg (14st 2lb) to 72kg (11st 5lb) - with the road back to the top strewn with obstacles that needed to be overcome.

Spells at Scunthorpe and Yeovil provided him with a chance to banish any doubts that he was good enough to play at the highest level and after a spell at Blackburn, he is now flourishing under the management of former Ireland defender Chris Hughton at Brighton.

“I came back too soon after the big injury and my body wasn’t ready to come back when I did,” he adds. “I lost a lot of weight and was being pushed off the ball too easily, so I needed to get myself back to where I was physically before I was ready to compete again.

“It was difficult to get first team chances at Everton and I felt like I needed to get myself playing again, so I had no problem going down the leagues, even if it wasn’t to the so-called glamour clubs.

“I loved it. It was proper men’s football and you could not go hiding or having any self doubts when you were playing at that level.

“I wouldn’t have believed a few years ago that I would be playing in these games against the big stars in the Premier League or playing for Ireland, but it has been a great journey for me and I’m enjoying it.”

Many a sporting hero have had their story chronicled under a headline of ‘back from the brink’ in newspapers down the years as they have battled against the demons of alcohol, gambling or other addictions.

Yet few have lived through the kind of trauma Duffy has managed to put to the back of his mind, with his rise to the top of his sport a triumph all in Ireland should celebrate.

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