Hurley has gained perspective from adversity
By John Harrington
For the first time in four years, Brian Hurley properly felt like a Cork footballer again this summer.
He was told he’d never play at the highest level again when he ripped his hamstring off the bone twice in the space of a year and the severe injuries ruled him out of the 2016 and 2017 Championships.
He made a return to the Cork set-up in 2018 but, not surprisingly, was very much feeling his way back and not operating near anything like full throttle.
This summer though he was like a player reborn in the Cork attack. For Hurley, it felt good to be back.
“It's like starting my career again, to be honest,” said Hurley. “I thought it was all over.
“Yeah, it's small things, though, you know? I was around the panel, but you didn't really feel a part of it because I kept my distance on the WhatsApps, i was travelling to some games with them but I wasn't really there, if you know what I mean?
“In your own head you're saying, f**k it, I'm not there, like. So just to have the craic in the dressing-room, the banter around the lads, and you feel that you're training harder.
“And training with them you can scut them more and have that craic, and that's what it's all about.
“If you're physically okay you'll train and get through all that side of it. It's just that you missed all the small parts of it around the dressing-room and just having the craic with the lads really.
“To get back to where I didn't think I'd get back to, it's a massive confidence boost. You know you can push yourself as hard as you can because the body can allow you do it.
“Credit must go to the medical team. I was told that I wouldn't play at this level again. We had to go further afield because I wouldn't be operated on in Ireland.
“So I went to England and got the operation done and I suppose the rest is history. I suppose, look, it's not just me, there's loads of other fellas who have been on to me and have had the same operation and are back playing thankfully.
“So it's good to see the resources that are out there. It's just the willingness of getting the right medical team and pushing in the right direction and it makes the work a lot easier.”
Hurley owes his successful comeback to the surgical skill of Professor Fares Haddad, a London-based Orthopaedic Consultant who has operated on other Irish sports stars like rugby international Iain Henderson and soccer international Greg Cunningham.
“The GAA is brilliant because it gives you lots of contacts and gets you talking to the right people. My medical team were fantastic.
“It was a decision between ourselves and obviously it was in my hands but the confidence alone, I heard from fellas and professional players in Ireland getting it done and it gave me more confidence from where I wanted to go.
“I flew over and I met him (Haddad). The biggest thing for me was he told me he could operate and I actually thought it was a bad thing, he wanted to operate it was so bad.
“My doc was delighted, he said that was a very good thing and (so did) my physio. I couldn’t see it, all I could see was being in a brace again at 90 degrees for eight weeks and I was saying ‘Jesus, deja vu’.
“I went back the second time for surgery a week later. Everything was professionally done. We learned the hard way the first time and I knew what to do and it just made life a bit easier even though I had to take the same time out.
“We knew what was around the corner and we got better advice, we were stricter, we hit more specific areas, we got professional soccer players programmes and we worked off of them.
“We made it back thanks to the professor and to the medical team. They have to take the credit because they pointed me in the direction.”
Underdoing such a difficult rehab for the second time in a year was extremely tough for Hurley, but he also believes it has given him a valuable perspective on life in general.
“It just opened up my eyes,” he says. “Without getting too depressed about it, I met a lot of people in worse situations, wheelchair, leg losses; you look at me and it's only temporary. I said, 'This is only a small thing'.
"I just looked at it that way, kept doing it that way and just built a very good support team around me. It was always positive, no matter if I was having a s**t day or whatever it was, they always put me back on track. It wasn't all rosy - there were a lot of dark days and good days.
“It definitely made me a better person. People that are around you, when you're in that Cork football bubble, everyone wants a piece of you.
“It's when you get injured, go away down the back, they forget about you and stuff. You realise how good the people around you really are, when you're in a brace at 90 degrees with one leg, you can't get off the couch on your own, you can't put on your own socks.
“I had club fellas dropping ice to the door, trying to get swelling down.
“You don't realise when you're inside in the Cork football bubble, or as an inter-county player, you take all that for granted.
“That opens your eyes and it's a different story then. It just makes you a better person, you're more grateful for everybody around you. It might sound a little odd, but if you're in that situation, you kind of understand it.”
Considering the adversity he had to overcome, you would imagine the experience of performing so well for Cork against Dublin in Croke Park in the first round of the All-Ireland Quarter-Final series would have felt like a huge milestone for Hurley.
At the time, not so much. It’s only now that he can appreciate the journey he has travelled to get back playing well at the very highest level against the best defenders in the country.
“It’s hard to explain in a very weird way because you’re inside in a bubble and you almost need to sit back and get away from everything to realise where you came from and where you are at the minute,” he says.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever been involved in an intercounty set-up but everything’s 100 miles an hour and all you concentrate on is making the team or pushing yourself to the max.
“It’s very hard to take in where you are or what’s going on around you because you’re so concentrated on the next game.
“When we played Dublin here, it was lovely to be back in Croker and what not but it didn’t go our way and we were just straight away into recovery for Monday and it’s Tyrone the following week.
“It’s only when you head off on holidays, being honest with you, with a beer in your hand that you’re saying ‘Jesus yeah, it wasn’t a bad season in a way of where I got back to’.
“I find it very hard to even sit down and chill out and think about stuff because everything is 100 miles an hour and it’s football, football everywhere you go.
“When I went away I reflected back on our season, where I got to personally, but I’m still not happy, I still want more, I’m hungry for more.”