Former Tipperary dual player fears mental toll of injuries on youngsters

South Tipperary players Mark Stokes, left, and Eoghan Connolly, right, celebrate following their side's victory in the Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge Corn Michael Hogan Final match between Galway Maroon and South Tipperary at Netwatch Cullen Park in Carlow. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Having watched his son spend eight months on the sideline because of a hip impingement, former Tipperary dual player Liam Stokes is concerned for the mental wellbeing of talented teenagers who find their burgeoning inter-county careers derailed by injury.

Mark Stokes, from the Kilsheelan-Kilcash club, played hurling and football for Tipperary from U14 right through to U17, as well as minor football in 2017, but the 18-year old has seen very little action inside the whitewash this year as he rehabs a hip injury which will require constant minding for the remainder of his playing days.

Up until said hip problem forced him off the pitch and onto the physio table, Mark was showing well in both codes and, as a result, attempting to keep on top of a busy schedule of training and lining out for school, club and county teams.

Liam, who underwent ankle, thigh and a succession of knee surgeries during his playing career, which yielded All-Ireland minor and U21 hurling medals in the 80s, is now in need of two knee replacements and cannot cycle a bike. He is determined his son does not end up in a similar situation and said parents have to take a responsibility.

“The main learning Mark has taken from his hip injury is that you have to listen to your body,” insisted Liam, who, along with his son, features in the TG4 documentary An Taobhlíne, which airs at 9.30pm this evening and looks at the physical and mental price amateur players are paying for sports they love.

“If you are not right, don’t cross the white line.

As parents, we have an onus to say no for them.

“The worst thing is the mental strain on the young lads. When out injured, Mark’s humour was pretty all over the place, particularly as he got closer to playing again. He’d find he’d be sore after doing a little bit and the humour would drop again. Mentally, it is very, very tough on anyone out injured for a long time and there are doubts about whether you’ll get back to the level you were at previously.”

A pincer impingement in his hip led to a visit to the Santry sports surgery clinic, where Mark opted for intensive rehabilitation instead of going under the knife. Those months working in isolation were difficult on the teenager.

“When you are out of sight, you are out of mind. There wasn’t too many enquiring about Mark while he was rehabbing, be they club or county selectors. You are not able to contribute, so they press on. That is tough, mentally.

“Because of all I went through, I am very conscious of where Mark finds himself now. Mentally, it can eat you up if you are doing the rehab and still not feeling right after it. The rehab is very lonely... it is months of solitude and despair.”

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