Brian Hurley has gone through it before, about ripping his hamstring in 2016 and feeling like he'd been shot by a sniper, about doing it again in 2017 and leaving his leg in 'a mess', prompting one medic to write off his Cork football career.
What Hurley didn’t realise until now, however, is that he’s actually glad it all happened. Glad that he spent weeks on the couch in a brace, his leg ‘90 degrees behind me’ to aid recovery, his pals dropping up bags of ice to the house. Glad that he turned himself into ‘an animal’ and trained non-stop in a dark, pokey garage for nine months to put himself in a position to play for Cork again.
And not just glad that he got back and is basically injury-free now but glad because he’s a different person.
“I know it might sound very weird but it was a blessing in disguise in that it kind of turned me upside down and it took me away from the bubble I was in,” said Hurley.
“Personally, I feel like a lot better of a person because of that kind of break or whatever way you want to look at it. A lot of other things happened in life and in a strange way, I’m glad it happened.
“It’s weird but if you don’t go through the same process, you won’t understand it. I’ve spoken to 15, 20 people who were in the same situation as me with the same injury and I spoke about mental toughness and things like that.
“There are a lot of challenging aspects but it makes you a better person. I’m delighted with football but there are a lot more important things out there and, more importantly, there are a lot more worse off people than me with an injury. It’s opened my eyes massively all across the board.”
Hurley’s difficult period began with the first hamstring injury during a training game in the summer of 2016. It wasn’t until he clipped three points from play against Dublin at Croke Park in the 2019 Super 8s that he could truly say he was back. What happened in between he could write a book on, or a medical thesis.
“The physical part [of recovery] is easy, it’s the getting the head right and just getting on with the recovery work,” he said. “You have to have the right team around you as well and do the right training.
“It’s easy to go on a drinking bandwagon and go after a few birds, you know, honestly. But you have to really zone in and you have to sacrifice more than you ever did because you’re in a situation where you’re nearly back to zero and everyone else is training at an elite level.”
At 29, Hurley is the face of Cork GAA again, put front and centre for the launch of sponsors Sports Direct’s #BornToPlay campaign, offering parents of newborns the chance to see their baby’s name featured on Cork’s walk of fame at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. In the past, this sort of thing might have gone to his head.
“The biggest thing I learned, including media, is that they all want a piece of you when you’re a Cork footballer and you’re scoring goals and points but it’s when you get a serious injury and you start at zero again and work your way back there, people forget about you and it’s how you react to that situation that will tell a lot more about you,” said the Castlehaven man.
Hurley should have crowned his recovery with a Munster medal last winter. Cork did the hard part, beating Kerry, but then fell to Tipperary. If they beat Limerick or Waterford on July 10th, there’ll be another Munster final 15 days later and then the rescheduled 2020 county final against Nemo Rangers. After what he’s been through, success would be so sweet.
“Yeah, 100 per cent,” nodded Hurley. “To be honest, I’m over my injuries now, my body feels good. I just want to play football. When you’re unavailable for two years, you realise how much you miss it, it’s like a second career now in a way. I just can’t get enough of football.”
Former AFL player Ciarán Sheehan hasn’t been as fortunate and the 2010 All-Ireland winner held up the white flag earlier this week and conceded defeat in his battle with a knee injury, retiring at 30.
“You hate to see fellas leave but obviously Ciarán had no choice in the matter,” said Hurley. “But what a career, I don’t have to go into that, what he’s done for Cork football.”
On Cork’s championship chances, Hurley shrugged. He’s aware that many expect Kerry to come out of Munster and to take the fight to Dublin in August.
“They are two very good teams but it all comes down to the day we are playing eachother and who wants it more,” he said.