Well-known West Cork referee Alan Long suffered a brain aneurysm during a match in late January. He chats to Kieran McCarthy about the frightening experience, his recovery and his recent comeback
HE knew the warning signs only too well.
When he was 18 his mother, Una, died from a brain aneurysm, aged just 39, and, on Saturday evening, January 30th this year, when it came calling for Alan Long, instantly he recognised the danger he was in.
The Timoleague man (35) was refereeing the Tadhg Crowley Cup final between Valley Rovers and Clonakilty at Ahamilla, and the first half had passed off without incident.
Three minutes into the second half, Alan knew he was in trouble.
An almighty pounding headache struck.
Minutes later he started seeing double.
‘I remember it, alright. I was fine all day. There was no hint of anything. Half-time in the game came and went, no problem. Three minutes into the second half I looked at my watch, I just got a massive headache. The neck got stiff,’ Alan recalled.
‘I turned around to Denis Murphy from Clon who was close to me and asked him to keep an eye on me because I knew something wasn’t right.
‘I kept going for another four minutes. I blew for a free for Valleys. My eyesight had gone blurry so I said I better call a halt to this because I didn’t want to make a fool of the game.
‘I went over to the Valleys bench, told them that Seamus Crowley would have to continue for me and asked them to ring a doctor because I knew something was wrong. They rang South Doc, and then Dr Jason (van der Velde of the West Cork Rapid Response unit) also came.
‘He asked me what I felt. I told him what symptoms I had and that I reckon it’s a brain aneurysm.’
Alan was right.
He was taken by ambulance to CUH where a CT scan confirmed he had suffered a brain aneurysm.
‘Only for there being a history of it in the family and I knowing a bit about it, I would have continued on,’ he admitted.
‘I have played on with a broken shoulder before, but I knew the warning signs. Once the eyesight got blurry, I knew there was something wrong.
‘The headache is like getting the belt of a hurley on the head, bang, and the neck stiffens up.
‘I am fierce lucky, to be honest. It could have been a lot worse, but here I am, three and a half months on, and, touch wood, everything’s okay.’
A brain aneurysm is a bulging, weak area in a blood vessel in the brain caused by a weakness in the vessel wall.
When this ruptures, they cause bleeding into the brain or the space surrounding the brain, called a subarachnoid haemorrhage.
Depending on its severity it can cause brain damage or death. Alan Long knows this better than most, and he also realises how lucky he is.
‘It could have turned out a lot worse,’ he admitted.
‘Some people go through life with a weakness in the blood vessel in the brain and nothing happens to them. It struck me, the vessel burst in the front of my forehead. But it didn’t kill me. I’m up and about, and getting back to normal.’
The well-known and highly-rated West Cork referee and Argideen Rangers junior football goalkeeper spent nine days in CUH. He was operated on the Monday after he was admitted, and a week later he was discharged, such was his remarkable recovery.
‘I am haunted, really. It’s so far, so good. The recovery went as well as it could, probably even better than I could have hoped,’ he said.
Slowly, life for the father of three – Ciara (4), Jack (20 months) and Danny (five months) – who is married to Karen, a rock for him during these worrying times, has returned to normal.
He returned to work, as production manager at Irish Yogurts, four weeks ago, starting off three days a week to ease back into it.
Then, three weekends ago, he refereed his first game back since that frightening night in Clonakilty, as he took to the field for a Munster U16 hurling game between North Tipp and East Waterford.
The following weekend Alan was the man in the middle for St Mary’s win against Ilen Rovers in round one of the West Cork junior ‘A’ football championship, and last weekend he took charge of Naomh Abán’s win against Castletownbere in the Cork PIFC in Bantry.
‘It’s great to be back out there again because there was always the possibility that I might not have been,’ he said, frankly.
‘In fairness to the lads in the West Cork board and the county board, after the operation I said I’d be back in a month, thinking I would, but they gave me as much time as I needed.
‘Like I said after the recent Mary’s and Ilen game, once I come home at all that’s a
‘The fitness isn’t what it was but that’s to be expected, that will come with time and more games.’
Alan’s also planning his football comeback between the posts for Argideen’s junior Bs this season but is adamant that this is his last season on the field before he hangs up his boots. One more year, that’s it, he smiles.
As for refereeing, the future is bright for this man in black who was in charge of last season’s county U21 A football championship final while he has also taking charge of two West Cork JAFC finals in recent times.
What started off as a favour for Declan Walsh from Argideen Rangers ten years ago has grown into a life of its own, and he’s enjoying the adventure, even more so now after the scare he suffered in late January and the hard few months that followed.
He was back in the CUH three weeks ago for a check-up and is scheduled in for a follow-up procedure in August to see how everything is. He will be monitored for the rest of his life.
‘I will have check-ups to keep on top of it, to stay in control of it,’ he explained.
Lucky to be alive and grateful for this second chance, Alan is also thankful to Valley Rovers, Clonakilty and Argideen Rangers GAA clubs for their support and Masses, to Donie O’Callaghan and Pakie Murphy for their help and assistance, to Dr Jason van der Velde and the emergency services who helped save his life, and to his wife Karen whose unwavering love and support has helped him on his road to recovery.