Lyng busy searching for a new lease of life


GAELIC GAMES:SO AS the season cranks up what news of Gizzy Lyng? Wexford’s charismatic captain, variously deployed as defender, midfielder and forward since breaking through in 2004, will be roving this summer. And possibly next summer too. Far from home.

He is home at the moment but won’t be shivering in Rathdowney tomorrow as the county hurlers take on Laois in the Walsh Cup. He doesn’t regret a day spent hurling in the purple and gold but the aggregate frustrations of the past few years, and an odd tale of parasites have taken their toll.

He’s gone for this year and will tell his employers in March if he will be gone for next year two. Time to get out of Dodge for a while.

Rewind the tape. The Leinster final of 2007. He played midfield with his old friend Eoin Quigley. Kilkenny inflicted the sort of damage which was to become customary for a lot of hurling counties but which back then Wexford found hard to accept. Gizzy came off in a bad state. The play-offs and Tipperary loomed. He had the bright idea of speeding the recovery process. The cryotherapy centre in Wexford.

First thing the following morning himself and Quigley were there ready to chill. They gave it the full monty. Five minutes of intense cold. Gizzy came out and knew he’d made a mistake. The cold was staying in his bones, bedding into him. Cold beyond cold, is how he describes it.

He is an optimist, though. If the cold had done this to him then perhaps the heat could reverse it. Ten minutes later he was in the sauna. Ho hum.

“I knew it was bad,” he says. “I did the worst thing possible. I went down and got into the sauna ten minutes later and by that night I knew there was something majorly wrong with me.”

For the next week he couldn’t eat, sleep or drink. He went shivering through the nights chasing sleep which never came. He was freezing. He was roasting.

He couldn’t find a gear in training. He could get through it but it would leave him drained.

Soon after on a Saturday they played Tipp in the play-offs. Darragh Hickey skinned him. Hickey was top scorer for Tipp with four points. Gizzy can only remember what he looked like from behind.

So it went. Training but not sleeping. Submitting himself early on to the very Irish course of treatment, the belief that it would all just go away. They were beaten by Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final. He absorbed that and the illness continued through winter. He went to a couple of doctors. No solution. No cure. Got very little or no help from his county board. That disappointed him a little.

By the time the 2008 season came about he was no better but had made a strange kind of accommodation with the illness. He was living with it. He was getting sick a lot. He still couldn’t keep food down. When sleep eventually came it offered no relief – he’d wake as fatigued as he had been when he’d gone asleep. He was cranky, Cranky with everyone. Friends, family, the kids he taught in school. He learned to cope with it on the field.

“Every game that we had I’d spend the night before just dreading it. I can look back at games and I know I’d be avoiding the physical pulling and pushing. I was exhausted most of the time. I’d be falling over a lot. I know I did okay for the past few years, I’m not making excuses or claiming anything but I know I’ve been off centre and with all the training I never got the system back up to what it should be. I know if I could get that right I’ll come back the stronger for it.”

Eventually Colm Bonnar put him in touch with Tommy Dunne in Tipperary. Bonnar reckoned Dunne once had a similar ailment. Dunne listened, then put Lyng in touch with two people in Limerick. Richard Rocker and his partner Andrea, sports physicians. They sent a series off to England. World came back. Well two words. Blastocystis Hominis

Blastocystis hominis is the health equivalent of a dangerous corner forward. A cunning parasite which attacks the body and creates trouble when it is under stress or weakened. The moment the body picks up a little, its powers are diminished. Gizzy kept running himself into the ground for Wexford hurling though.

He figures he contracted the guest in Mexico or Thailand, the parasite had no passport but had lain dormant until Gizzy performed the freezing, boiling experiment on himself. The parasite awoke and had three years of work done before measures were taken to evict him.

“Definitely it was the worst thing ever. I should have nipped it in the bud early on but you know the way you wait and see and hope. I got a little better and lived with that. I got very little help from inside hurling. It wasn’t an injury in the line of duty but it wasn’t unconnected with hurling. I thought the board would want its players in the best shape but they had very little interest. I kept going. Tried anything. Tried everything. Spending money hand over fist. The last three years were like that.”

He is recovering. He takes no gluten, no dairy. Sits across the table drinking green tea. He has to take shakes. Meat once a week. Fish, Fish, Fish. In his bags he has €300 worth of supplements. The eviction war goes on. Eight months more of it.

By then he will be in a different place. After Carlow beat Wexford in the league last year he began to feel like things were going nowhere. He was on a treadmill exhausting himself and getting nowhere nearer to the land he promised himself to get to back in 2004. Nowhere near the place that Wexford were at in 1996, when he was a 15-year-old in awe of the gods of Liam Griffin’s team.

He got one championship game last summer. When Wexford exited the championship he headed to the States. Lived in Annapolis, Maryland. Took a three and a half hour bus ride every Friday. Did the whole Gaelic Park thing at weekends. Football and hurling. Loved it. A seed began growing in his brain.

When Kilkenny were deposed in September he wasn’t there for the end of an era. He was on a beach in Delaware. He thought to watch the game in the pub but was talked out of it. He couldn’t live the life of the intercounty hurler and fully enjoy the experience of life stateside.

So he went to Rahobart Beach, near Ocean City. Found himself tuning the radio dials, opening the laptop trying to follow it score by score. Still a hurler abroad. He knew though that Kilkenny’s misfortune was no longer automatically Wexford’s opportunity.

He is home to pick up, he hopes, a cultural visa to the US, a document which will entitle him to teach Irish and hurling in the land of the free. With hurling blossoming slowly in the States, the number of teams who could use a session or two with a top intercounty hurler must be immense. Gizzy Lyng, teacher and coach, is available.

He wants to see America. He has an uncle in Fort Lauderdale. Keep going till he hits Cuba. Back up to Florida and across the country to the west coast. Plans. Can he fit the world in. Down through South America. Peru. Rio. Argentina. Chile. On to New Zealand. Work his way back up through Asia. Some time in China. Maybe back across Europe. Time and money are his only borders.

He has another idea. His head teems with them. He has two hurls inserted in his backpack. Every part of the word he gets to he plans to bring out the hurls and do a few tricks to draw a crowd, then teach a few locals and video the whole business. He’d like to put together a little montage. Hurling across the world.

He was in Monaco last year before the county final and they produced their hurls and began belting the ball at each other. People were fascinated. Rattling the ball at each other, moving off each other, a bit of showboating.

And the purple and gold. In the next week he will seek Colm Bonnar out for a chat. The little frustrations of life as a Wexford hurler, life next door to the great stripey superpower can take their toll. On All Stars or provincial trips he and the small Wexford contingent socialise as satellites off the Kilkenny lads. He enjoys their company but can’t help but wonder sometimes how different their world is from his. How hard and slow the advances in Wexford hurling are.

He tells a funny story. He is well past the stage of feeling that county gear is a novelty or a significant benefit but he gets one T-shirt per year. “We’re supposed to wear them every Sunday. Ciarán, the brother, would be gone out the door on a Monday morning up to UCD with it. Then if he comes home it vanishes into the wash. You’d be getting stressed about the T-shirt! Small things like that.”

His rehabilitation, his chance to embrace the broader world out there is Wexford’s short-term loss but he hopes it will be the county’s long- term gain. “I’ll come back stronger and I’ll come back different. I don’t know how to explain it but there is something a bit narcissistic about being a county hurler. It’s all about you. You get used to things and take things for granted and you judge everything in terms of how it effects you or effects the team. It’s nice to get out from under that for a while. You need to get a different view of the world.”

He needs a time when his love, the hurling or his friend, the parasite, won’t be sucking the energy and youth out of him. A year. Two years. A fragment of his lifetime but probably the only time in that life to go and do it. He’s leaving Dodge and he won’t look back. Not until Wexford are playing on a championship Sunday and he goes in search of a bar or a radio or a laptop to bring him home. Meanwhile he has his hurley. Will travel. Cultural ambassador. And keep travelling ’till it comes time to buy a one-way ticket back to the life he knows.