KIERAN McCARTHY spoke to Cork footballer Brian Hurley after his latest injury setback
IT’S the question that he knew was coming.
‘Have you faced up to the possibility that you might not play football again?’
The truth is that exact question and its many imponderables have been racing around his head for the past week and a half – and he still doesn’t know the answer.
Brian Hurley’s in limbo.
He doesn’t know what his football future holds, whether his hamstring will recover from its latest setback, whether he will kick a ball in anger again and if he – touch wood – does make it back onto a football whether he can ever reach the level he wants to.
That’s a lot for this 24-year-old to take in and try to make sense of, but he does admit that he’s in last-chance saloon here.
‘This is my last chance, 100 per cent,’ Hurley admitted.
‘I know people are saying that time is on my side and that I am only 24 – but I know this is my last chance.
‘I have no problem putting in the hard work for the next year or so, whatever it takes to get this right, but there are no guarantees it will work.
‘You’re looking at 12 to 14 months before I’m back, that’s tough to deal with especially when I’m just after coming back from eight and a half months off where I had 77 sessions in just over two and a half months.
‘We put in a serious effort to get this right but it wasn’t meant to be.
‘The hardest part I have had to deal with is being told that I can’t play for another year – and then to be told that this is my last opportunity. If this doesn’t work out, more than likely I won’t play football again.’
When Hurley ripped his right hamstring four inches off the bone in an in-house training session at CIT’s grounds last July, the pain was alien to him; he’d never felt that before and had never heard his muscles ripping.
Sunday week ago, against Ballingeary in a Division 1 FL game at Moneyvollahane, his first start since last summer as his comeback picked up pace, he had possession and went to beat his man when that sickening pain returned.
‘I knew straightaway what had happened, 100 per cent, there was nothing else in my mind,’ Hurley said.
‘To describe it, it’s just like I got shot by lightning, again.
‘The ball was in my hands, I was in control; it’s not like last time when I slipped. I had the ball this time, I was about to take on my man, put the boot down and go, and wallop, it went again, I hit the floor like I was hit by lightning and I was roaring.
‘I knew exactly what it was, I heard three rips, the same ripping sound from before and the rest of the day was a blur.
‘People have asked was the pain bad, but I don’t remember. In my head I was saying, “get up, get up, get up” because I wanted to be involved in the Meath game. The more I pushed into the floor to try and get up, the more it seemed I was sinking into the floor.
‘It’s been a tough week but I need to stay positive and move on because there’s no point in staying negative and asking myself questions if I did this different or that different because the work was done and it didn’t work out.’
Brian Hurley knows more about hamstrings than he ever wanted to know.
Twice in nine months he has been struck down by serious hamstring injuries, the first rupture was more severe than his latest tear, but his hamstring has been weakened by these two major setbacks. It’s in a bad way.
An operation, he concedes, is not an option right now.
If he wants to play football again then there’s a long road back with no certainty he will reach his destination.
‘I ruptured all the bottom of the hamstring and tore muscle around it pretty badly; I did hear ripping again and that was obviously that,’ he said.
‘My surgeon told me it isn’t advisable to operate on it again so I can’t get surgery on the leg anymore because the hamstring is in such poor condition.
‘The top of the hamstring that was reattached the last time is quite good, there’s no real issue with that side whereas there is with the bottom.
‘I’ve to wait now for six weeks, to hopefully leave it heal instead of surgery because going down the road of surgery would be madness.
‘I’m going to go down the road without surgery, more than likely, because if I get surgery again it probably won’t work out. My hamstring would get shorter and tighter and if I went to run it will be under more pressure.’
The next six weeks are vital for Hurley. He’s not in a leg brace like last time so he needs to be extra careful. He’s on crutches and trying to keep as much pressure off his leg.
‘We are hoping that where the hamstring did come off, that it will sit back in place once the inflammation goes down. The rehab starts again, the basic stuff, it’s a road I know from before and I’ve to go down it again,’ he said.
‘The recovery will be a lot, lot longer because I need to let it heal first before I start the rehab process – that will be a lot longer because I will be more cautious.
‘I had full confidence in this comeback. I thought I was there.
‘I could have been back playing football in January but I left it until March, I took my time so for this to happen is very difficult for me, to get my head around it.
‘I was very unfortunate. There is nothing else I could have done better. I was asking myself hundreds of questions since it happened but everything I did was to plan – and I have just been unlucky.
‘The weakest link in the chain just gave in.’
He added: ‘I will go to the UK for a second opinion, just to get clarity and so that in ten years’ time I won’t say that I should have asked so and so for their opinion.’
If Hurley raised his two middle fingers to the world last week and shut the curtains for a few days, you couldn’t blame him.
After eight and a half months out, he was back training fully with Castlehaven and Cork, played 20 minutes in a Division 1 FL game against Ballincollig in February and if he came through the league clash with Ballingeary he was set to be involved in the Cork panel for the Allianz FL tie with Meath last Sunday.
Just as it was all coming together, his hamstring snapped again, casting his football future into doubt.
He admits it’s been a test of character to wrap his head around this cruel blow.
‘I was pushing away the fellas closest to me, the people who knew how hard I had worked,’ he said.
‘It’s because they worked so hard with me and to do all this for nothing…. my parents, my best buddies, the boys going to the gym, in the last three and a half months there were 43 mornings that I was up at 6am.
‘These lads who knew the work I put in, I couldn’t look them in the face, I think I was embarrassed in a weird way that it’s happened again.’
He was in a bad place for a few days last week.
Through various contacts, last week Hurley met up with former Munster rugby player Johnny Holland for a two-hour chat.
Last year Holland, then 25 years old, had to retire from rugby after protracted hamstring problems, so the two share an unwanted similarity.
‘There are worse things out there. I need to be positive and accept what’s happened, and also know that I have one more chance. Other people haven’t been as fortunate, I met with Johnny Holland last week, he gave me huge advice and I think I have turned a corner,’ Hurley said,
‘He opened my eyes. He told me that I had a chance to play again, he doesn’t have that and that he’d do anything for a chance like that.
‘There are no guarantees I will play football again but where I come from we’re fighters and I will fight this as much as I possibly can and give it everything.
‘Hopefully I’ll get another chance at it.
‘I want to play for Cork, I want to be Castlehaven’s best player but maybe I’ll have to settle for something else next time. I need to take it step by step, control what I can control, stay positive.
‘We’ll have a shot off it and see what happens.
‘Football is a huge part of me, my family, where I’m from but life is more important and you have to open your eyes to that. There are a lot worse things out there.’
Hurley’s now looking to the future and staying positive, but he knows he is venturing into the unknown.
‘The hardest part of all this is knowing that this is my last chance and who’s to know that after 12 months and all of this that it will work out. There’s a chance it won’t and I know that. But I’ll give it a good shot.’