There were nights where I burst out crying - footballer Sean Russell
League of Ireland footballer Sean Russell says he has suffered mentally and financially from a dispute with First Division club Limerick FC. The Dubliner has been offered no alternative but to try and fundraise the €6,000 he needs to get the surgery required to play again.
Russell also feels he has been "let down" by the FAI over their inaction since his world was turned inside-out by a serious knee injury while on duty for Limerick back in March.
The 25-year-old is holding out hope of playing football again, but only after he can raise the funds needed for surgery. Before that, he must also settle an unpaid bill of €1,400.
"I was aware of issues at Limerick in the past and you have the hope that if there is a problem, that you have the FAI to fall back on, to sanction the club, to help you, but I am 100pc let down," Russell said.
"I played for Ireland at underage level and those are some of the proudest moments of my career, so to be let down by the governing body, for them to say I have to deal with it myself, is hugely disappointing.
"I have been left on my own, let down by the FAI and I can't understand why the game's governing body can't step in. I have been left with no other option than to go public and try to fundraise. Not something I wanted to do, but I have had to do it.
"I have this bill hanging over me and it has affected my career. I have been left with no other choice."
Midfielder Russell, who began his League of Ireland career with UCD in 2010, began a second spell with Limerick FC at the start of this season.
Just weeks into the new campaign he suffered a serious injury in a game at home to Athlone Town.
"There was no stretcher there, two members of the coaching staff had to carry me off. The warning signs were there from the off as these are basics that should be in place," he says.
The injury ended his season but the fallout has left the midfielder struggling to save his career. A battle with the club began. Russell had signed for Limerick as an amateur player who was paid expenses, but not wages, and as he was not a registered professional he could not be represented by the players' union, the SIPTU-affiliated PFAI.
A fundraising drive by Limerick supporters brought in €4,150 for his first bout of surgery, but a bill of €1,400 from that operation remains unpaid, and Russell can't start the next stage of his recovery until that's dealt with.
Russell says he's looking at a €6,000 fee to cover the next stage of surgery and rehab, but has to pay that himself. Limerick FC did not respond to requests for a comment.
And the status of amateur players is a worry for him. "You have young players who are trying to make a name for themselves but they are on amateur contracts and that needs to be addressed," he added.
"There is a grey area between amateurs and pros in the league that has to be looked at. It's not good enough. It could happen to another player next weekend and that's wrong."
Russell took to social media with his plans to fundraise yesterday. He says he was puzzled by a response, on Twitter, from the interim FAI boss Noel Mooney looking to make contact. Mooney wrote: "I'll happily contribute to fundraiser etc".
But Russell was unhappy with that reply. "I was baffled when I saw that tweet. I spoke to Noel a while ago, he said he'd get back to me in a week, but weeks went by.
"At the start he said he wasn't aware of it all as this happened before he came to the FAI. For him to offer to contribute towards a fundraiser, when I'd heard nothing from the FAI for so long, was disappointing," said Russell, who is now working part-time while training to be a barber.
"This has drained me. I had nights where I had broken down, nights where I burst out crying. Mentally, it has been a rollercoaster and only for my parents, who supported me financially, and my girlfriend, I don't know where I'd be, I was lucky to have a physio, Dave Clancy, who helped me.
"At a time when mental health is such a big issue in sport, I wasn't offered help, and football has a long way to go."