Brian Hurley's injury woes highlight the cruel nature of elite sport

Brian Hurley's injury woes highlight the cruel nature of elite sport
Brian Hurley was in lethal form in 2014 against Kerry in the league. Picture: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

AT one stage of the first half in Páirc Uí Rinn last Sunday afternoon, Cork’s Michael Hurley jinked and soloed a ball out around the Louth 45 and looked up for a run inside from his full-forward line. 

None had been made with quite the right timing and as Hurley, who was bright and speedy with the ball throughout, moved the ball across the field a thought sprung from some memory on why his brother Brian hadn’t helped out. It took a moment to register his absence and then another moment to realise we hadn’t heard anything on his progress back from injury in an age and then another moment with a quick google to realise he’d just released a short video on the Pundit Arena website about his injury and current comeback. 

It’s not an enjoyable watch and if the details of the gruesome nature of his particular hamstring rip have been shared and discussed plenty already, there’s certainly something striking in the harrowing way Hurley describes the personal lows of this kind of serious injury, basically an injury that’s threatened to undo everything he’s ever done to become an elite club and intercounty gaelic footballer. Hurley’s brutally honest for example on his reaction to what looked like a football-ending setback a while after the operation, the tears and the dark thoughts and the tendency to shut himself away from everyone else, until basically he found out that it wasn’t as bad as initially feared. 

The video ends on a reasonably bright note and if there’s little certainty that we’re ever likely to see the footballer who terrorised Kerry’s full-back line down in Tralee or won a county final almost by himself against Nemo, the suggestion is that Hurley won’t be dwelling on the what-ifs anyway.

Some points stand out here. If being an inter-county GAA player is portrayed sometimes as a tough gig, then being an injured inter-county GAA player seems a particularly cruel existence. 

Clare hurler Darach Honan retired recently at just 26 with the demands on his hip becoming too much.

Dublin’s Bernard Brogan. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Dublin’s Bernard Brogan. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Bernard Brogan has the recovery road ahead now and if we can marvel at how say Zlatan Ibrahimovic can motivate himself at that age for all the necessary work or how Seamus Coleman can focus and impact the game again so soon, well the fact that it’s their job to do so holds some weight. 

Brian Hurley spoke of 6am training starts and evening sessions on his first comeback attempt. I remember a Cork player recovering from a serious knee injury talking through his schedule a few years ago now and it was full-on, day after day obsessional level of detail; the remarkable thing was this was all with no guarantee of getting back playing that year and still trying to live a normal life on the side.

Cork have suffered as much as (more than?) any other county here. 

Muskerry's Cathal Vaughan wins the ball from St Nick's Niall Horgan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Muskerry's Cathal Vaughan wins the ball from St Nick's Niall Horgan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Poor Cathal Vaughan, one of the more obviously talented forwards in Cork football, looked ready to make some kind of claim for a chance in the McGrath Cup and then went and did his shoulder again in a collision with a Clare defender. That’s four years since he kicked two points in a Division 1 game against Kildare. 

There was a moment in the Cork-Tipp league opener a few weeks back where Sean Powter took everyone’s breath away with an incredible feat of raw speed. Not long afterwards, he took everyone’s breath away again when he was chasing full-pelt after a Tipp player in possession and he pulled up with one of those obvious hamstrings that ripped through his leg and the crowd, where the supporters almost experience what they’re seeing and it’s clearly not a good thing. 

Powter is one of those explosive athletes who looks primed for constant movement, either colliding up against much bigger footballers or sprinting flat out into clear grass in front of him and if there’s a price to be paid for having this particular talent of phenomenal athleticism that scares opponents then it’s this sense that he might always be on the edge of doing damage to himself, that this will always be there in the background. 

We always think of Conrad Murphy (a potentially era-defining footballer) who could never quite get the run of games together that fully beat the hamstring curse and there are different issues at play here. Powter’s another potential gem that could provide the mix of speed and ability that’d take down bigger counties during a summer but now he’s looking at months out and then a little time to find form and match fitness again and all the time there’s game time to find his role in the team and establish relationships with others on the same line or same side of the field. 

It’s an unlucky break in a development year for him and you wouldn’t want it happening again in the next two or three years and it’d be a terrible shame if we’re talking in ten years’ time about injuries rather than games and medals.

There’s been a suggestion for a while that Cork hasn’t always helped itself here, that a lot of muscle injuries over the last four or five seasons have come out of strength and conditioning programmes that haven’t always been joined up or a lack of proper qualified help that an elite group ought to have. 

There’s a tendency certainly when a hamstring pops on a player that’s deemed under pressure to put it down to overwork and too many demands and lack of cleverness in minding a player – we saw only last week the immediate outcry across the border to what happened David Clifford against Mayo. 

A batch of Cork footballers between those vital ages of 20 to 26 have been particularly hit by a constant stream of some niggling and some more serious injuries. At one stage in his video Brian Hurley says that he now hates seeing any players injured, that he wished there was no such thing as injuries. Cork GAA would echo that thought.

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