Hugh Gill finally gets a lucky break
St Vincent’s defender injury-free at last after catalogue of fractures and breaks
Hugh Gill (right) celebrates St Vincent’s Leinster club final victory over Portlaoise with goalkeeper Michael Savage. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
A broken leg. Two broken bones in his hand. A couple of hamstring tears and a stress fracture on the tuberosity of the ischium. If Hugh Gill had just ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament instead then he’d probably feel he was getting off lightly.
Because for much of the last three years, the former Dublin defender wondered if or when he’d ever get back playing football: the broken bones were bad enough, but the stress fracture on the tuberosity of the ischium – more commonly known as the “sitting bones” - came with no definite timeframe of return, just the simple order to stay off his legs for at least four months.
“I suppose the last three years have been a bit of a nightmare,” says Gill, who now finds himself in the more dreamlike scenario of playing in a second All-Ireland club final before his 26th birthday.
With that, the St Vincent’s vice captain also has a more heightened sense of appreciation about next Monday’s Croke Park showdown with Castlebar Mitchels.
Having played in the club’s last All-Ireland success, in 2008, aged just 19, Gill might well have thought his future was nothing but rosy.
Indeed he was called into the Dublin senior football panel the following year, by then under his former St Vincent’s club-mate Pat Gilroy, but not long after that got his first bad break – as in a broken a leg.
“I’d played in several league games for Dublin,” he recalls, “and then broke my leg, in the run-up to the championship, in a challenge game. Then I got back the next year, played several more games in the league, and was a sub for most of the championship. And then, the next year, I got the stress fracture.
“By then it was becoming very tough, three or four mornings a week in the gym, doing upper body work, the rehab. And then when I came back, I pulled my hamstring, twice.
“ I think what happened is after I had surgery, maybe my running gait changed, and the injuries kept coming. I wasn’t really enjoying it anymore, and just decided to walk away for a while.”
A stress fracture on the tuberosity of the ischium certainly sounds painful, and Gill confirms it is: “It’s basically the bottom of your arse,” he says. “So you can’t actually do anything on your legs at all, for four months. It was very frustrating, especially when you’re trying to be elite, playing with the best.”
So having walked away from both club and county, Gill’s only priority was to get back playing and playing pain-free: it helped that his mother is a physiotherapist, providing much of the required services, and presumably with no charge.
He got himself right, and so got himself back playing with his club.
Then came the next bad break – as in breaking two bones in his left hand, playing with St Vincent’s, in their opening Dublin league game against Raheny.
“I put my hand in somewhere, and yeah, ended up with a couple of broken bones. But it actually wasn’t that bad. I got the surgery and I think I was back in three months.”
Since then it’s been a clean break – as in an injury-free run all through the current club campaign, which also included St Vincent’s winning back the Dublin title for the first time since 2007.
‘Tough old road’
“It’s been a tough old road, but my only goal at the start of this year was to get back enjoying my football again, then put myself in contention to get back into the squad. I’m back now in, and that makes life that bit easier, when you’re enjoying yourself, enjoying your football.”
Not surprisingly then, Gill’s lasting memory of the 2008 success was Gilroy coming up to him afterwards, warning him to enjoy the moment: “I remember him saying, ‘Don’t take it for granted, this mightn’t happen to you again’. I think he was pretty annoyed that it was my first year, and it might have been his 17th year or 18th year with the club. He was basically telling me to appreciate it. And I didn’t really believe what he was was saying at the time.”
Now, having been through so much to get back there, Gill has nothing but belief in those words.