Good article on McGuigan from Saturday’s Independent by my once arch-nemisis Vncent Hogan. I feel terribly sorry for McGuigan - what a shocking run of bad luck he’s had.
Think of his eye as a tomato - sliced by a blade
By Vincent Hogan
Saturday July 14 2007
AGHYARAN is in North Tyrone, hard against the Donegal border. The pitch is tight and routinely claustrophobic on a Championship day. It’s maybe an hour and 10 minutes drive from Ardboe. That night, Brian McGuigan never did make the journey home.
They rushed him straight to Altnagalvin Hospital in Derry where it took eight stitches to close the gash in his eye-lid. That was the simple bit. The real damage would take more time to uncover. But McGuigan sensed it couldn’t be good.
The impact had left him blind in the eye. He recalls it thus: "I remember kicking the ball and watching it in mid-air. And, in the corner of my eye, I can see this boy coming. That’s how late he was. I wasn’t really paying much attention but, next thing, bang. It wasn’t sore.
"But I just remember going completely blind. Just pure black. Straight away. I got up and I was panicking. Went over to the sideline and said to our manager, ‘I can’t see!’
"They were pouring water on my eye. ‘You’re split open!’ they said. I told them again that I couldn’t see.
“‘Look’, they said, ‘it’s blood in your eye.’ I knew it wasn’t blood in my eye. I was just completely blind.”
By the Monday, Mickey Harte had taken the initiative.
McGuigan was put in the hands of a respected Dungannon eye-specialist, Mr Sharkey. There would be no sugar-coating of his predicament. “A pure mess,” was Sharkey’s initial description of the damage. His prognosis was that McGuigan would be lucky to recover 30 to 40 per cent of his vision.
The trick is to think of the eye as a tomato. A tomato that has just been sliced with a blade. Think of the random assembly of seeds and locules on the chopping board.
That, said the specialist, was Brian’s eye now.
“Your eye has effectively been stood on, squashed,” he said. Reconstruction would be pain-staking.
The most immediate and worrying deduction was that the retina had been detached. So, that Friday, the swelling having abated, Mr Sharkey performed the first operation in the Royal Victoria Hospital.
Two more have since followed. One of them, the insertion of a gas bubble to stop the retina flopping about, had to be done (with considerable pain) under local anaesthetic.
For two weeks, Brian was told to lie virtually motionless at home, a sentence that would leave him with bed-sores. He lost weight. He waited for the phone to ring.
The silence from Aghyaran began to gall the whole McGuigan family. Brian’s father Frank became especially irate. When, originally, he had sought clarity on the severity of his son’s injury, Frank was told that the damage was akin to what the medics sometimes see inflicted by “a baseball bat in a punishment beating”.
Twice Frank wrote letters to the local Tyrone Times emphasizing the severity of his son’s injury.
Brian, too, found his humour begin to wane. After three weeks of silence, he took it upon himself to phone an Aghyaran official - “Just to see what they thought of the whole thing.”
The official offered a bizarre view that one of McGuigan’s own team-mates might have inflicted the damage.
“Which made me sick,” says Brian.
Eventually, last Friday week (seven weeks on from the incident) the other player involved in the collision phoned Brian McGuigan in Ardboe.
The conversation was relatively cordial, yet bereft of any plausible explanation.
“He told me he was wearing a glove and that he might have caught me with the glove,” says McGuigan.
“I said that last week to the surgeon. And his response was ‘Well, he must have had a horse-shoe in it then!’”
‘I know there is a chance I’ll never play inter-county football again’
BRIAN McGUIGAN is sitting in the living-room of his mother’s house, watching Wimbledon. For the second successive summer, he has acquired a virtually encyclopedic knowledge of business at the All England Club. That and the human zoo of ‘Big Brother.’
It is a sodden Thursday in Ardboe and tonight, as ever, Tyrone’s liaison officer - Jim Curran - will call to the house, ready to ferry Brian’s younger brother, Tommy, to county training in Clogher.
It “kills” Brian not to be in that car. Yet, he offers a pretty graphic explanation of why he can’t be. “All the wee ligaments holding the lens and the iris together had been totally ripped off,” he says.
"Right now, the lens is not even held in. The ligaments aren’t holding it. Only the jelly behind the lens is keeping it in place.
“So, if I get a bang on it at all, it’s going to fall off. Or float back into the jelly. You’re kind of living on your nerves in that way. You’re on a bit of a knife-edge.”
Last Saturday week, he was rushed back in to the Royal Victoria again when “a black shadow” appeared in his vision. A specialist inspected the eye and he could see the alarm in her expression.
She immediately went to the phone and her words cut through him.
“Is there a bed upstairs, this is an emergency!”
So, he watched the following day’s Monaghan-Derry Ulster semi-final from a Belfast hospital bed, wondering if hot days on the Clones hill would ever again involve him. As it happened, the shadow was simply a piece of the retina that had buckled slightly. Nothing sinister. And Mr Sharkey has taken to telling Brian that he’s “defying the odds” right now. That Championship 2008 is a reasonable target. But McGuigan knows this isn’t work that carries a warranty.
“I know there is a chance,” he says quietly.
“I have to think of this. I know there is a chance I’ll never play inter-county football again. You have to be realistic. And that’s in the back of my head.”
So, here he sits, wiling away another summer. The day after his trip to Aghyaran, Brian had been due to commence the planning for a 2009 wedding to his girlfriend of eight years, Jennifer McConville. And they were to begin the pursuit of a house.
Neither wedding nor house has even drawn a mention since.
His work as a joiner is at a standstill too, though - this time - he’s a mite better prepared for the loss of earnings. When McGuigan broke his leg, he went six months without receipt of a single penny. The fault, he claims, was largely his own.
The insurance forms came, but he left them aside.
“I suppose it was the fact I wasn’t spending any money,” he says. "I felt I’d rather the money in one lump sum at the end. So I kind of held off and didn’t send away the forms. I didn’t really need it.
“If I had been married with children and a mortgage, it would have been different.”
In the end, he went back to work earlier than was sensible. The leg was still sore.
“I wasn’t fit to work, but I had to get out of the house,” he says. Worse, he heard rumours that a Tyrone colleague had had his rehab from serious injury completely funded by the county board. Little resentments began to fester.
He finally collected his insurance money last March and a golf outing in Dublin raised almost 5,000 for his benefit. He also decided to take out personal insurance cover on realization that the existing GAA scheme doesn’t even come close to compensating a player his full wage. And, now, he is thanking his stars that he did.
McGuigan says he wants for nothing today in terms of support and encouragement. Every medical and physiotherapy need is immediately funded by the county board. Harte is in constant contact. Brian Dooher comes on the phone daily. Family have been extraordinary. Jennifer too. There have been cards from all over Ireland.
When he was in rehab with his leg, he went four months walking with a cage to support the bones. There’s a gym above the local Credit Union and, every day, he’s take himself there to work on upper body strength.
Progress was incremental. About a month after the cage was removed, he took to playing soccer with locals, on the proviso that no-one tackled him. By January, he was meeting up twice-a-week with Dooher and Conor Gormley and Collie Holmes at physio in Cookstown, the three of them training for an hour and a half afterwards, Dooher pushing manically.
He was hungry for this summer. Then it was taken.
And the sense of loss has set him thinking. In January 2005, McGuigan flew to Hong Kong with the Allstars. From there, he flew to Sydney with Jennifer and, for the next five months, Bondi was their home. He came home on June 9, played a county training match two days later and barely got a kick.
The following Sunday, Tyrone found themselves in trouble against Cavan in the Ulster Championship. Harte sent McGuigan in and the ship was steadied. Three months later, they were All-Ireland kings.
“I wasn’t overly good that day,” he says. “But I was fresh and everybody else was wrecked after half a game. They came down to my level and I got a bit of space.”
That October, he flew back to Australia on the International Rules trip and stayed 'til the following January. “It was just the perfect year,” he says. “Pity I’ve had two crap ones since.”
‘Cormac was a massive loss . . . it got me thinking about dying’
THE DAY Tyrone minced Donegal, he was in bed on his side, compelled to avoid all sudden movement. What he saw tugged at him with envy.
The old hunger was so palpable in the boys.
The sense of destiny.
Dooher, who virtually ran the show, came to Ardboe the following day to see him. They talked at length.
Dooher, says McGuigan, is the human embodiment of everything this Tyrone group stands for. Honesty. Manliness. Trust. Ambition.
They are a profoundly tight group, tighter maybe than outsiders understand.
McGuigan thinks it comes from their history, from all the griefs, heartaches and shared traumas.
“There’s a deadly bond between these boys,” he says. "A bond that will last a lifetime. I see some teams that barely associate with one another once a game is over.
"But these boys are friends away from football. We’ll always have that.
"You go back to Paul McGirr dying. The same year, we were preparing for a semi-final and Kevin Hughes’s brother died. It hit that team hard.
“Then, for Cormac (McAnallen) to die you start thinking ‘Jesus, what is wrong with us? Is there someone with something against us.’”
He continues: "Cormac was a massive loss. There were nights I couldn’t sleep after he died. It got me thinking about dying. I remember I was just going out to work when I heard the news. It didn’t really hit me. That night a few of us went to the pub in Ardboe.
"I can remember us watching the news, chatting almost as if nothing had happened.
"You just go into shock. The next day, Cormac came home and we went up to the wake. The team all went in first.
"And, seeing him in the coffin, it really hit home. Everybody just broke down. Then we all went into this wee room. And nobody said a word for about an hour.
"It’s just something you can never make sense of. You just thought that, if God was going to take somebody away, it wouldn’t be Cormac. He was a gentleman.
"There’d be boys who’d mess at training but, when Cormac was standing beside them, they’d never mess. And he’d be the same age. He just had something about him.
“He was a huge help to us winning in '05. He was in everyone’s thoughts, but we never really mentioned him. Not until we had won the All-Ireland and Mickey got us all around in a circle in the dressing-room. That was unreal.”
‘I don’t care if I get another penny in my life. As long as I get my sight back’
McGUIGAN will resist the lure of Clones tomorrow.
The wind still gives him discomfort in the eye. And, anyway, he thinks he’d be “tortured” from the questions.
In maybe a couple of months time, they’ll try to complete the delicate business of reconstruction and, all going well, Brian McGuigan could be back in a Tyrone shirt next summer. There is, he knows, no certainty.
In the meantime, he must swallow the frustration of another lost year.
“Only the fella who did it knows if there was intent,” he says.
"You know I can feel so much anger towards him, but being angry . . . it’s not going to get my eyesight back.
“I don’t care if I don’t get another penny in my life again. Just as long as I get my sight back. Just as long as I can play football.”