Trevor Neville enjoyed a special 40th birthday at his home in Newcastle West last week, a milestone that looked impossible when he suffered a devastating stroke nine years ago.
But it wasn’t just family and friends who were congratulating the former club football star.
An All Star collection of Irish sporting greats sent their best wishes via a video message montage compiled by the incredible initiative and hard work of his former clubmates at Sean McDermotts in Warwickshire.
Paul McGrath, Brian O’Driscoll, Steve Staunton, Brian Mullins, Tomás Ó Sé, Liam Sheedy and Alan Quinlan were amongst those who took the time to salute the brave Limerick man who remains an avid fan of GAA and Munster rugby.
Neville was a stalwart member of the Birmingham club when, aged 31, he suffered a stroke at work, a few months before he was due to get married in the Dominican Republic.
Trevor’s mother Liz has recalled the news that changed everything: “I had a missed call on a Saturday evening and I knew instantly that something was seriously wrong.
“His then partner Collette was by his side and she broke the news to me. The plan was for me to fly over on the Monday to see him.”
The seriousness of the situation was provided in stark terms the following morning.
Liz continued: “The doctor rang on a Sunday morning with two options. The first was that they would operate and that he could be a vegetable for the rest of his life. The second was to do nothing and that he would die.
"That was about 9.30am and I had an hour to decide. Collette rang me back a few minutes afterwards and she said ‘I want to give him a chance'."
“I agreed that we should go ahead with the operation and pray that it would be successful. They performed the surgery and he now has a huge plate in his skull but he came out of it very well all things considered. His speech though was the thing which was affected most.”
Liz would fly over to see her son in a rehabilitation centre every three weeks.
After a few months the decision was made for Trevor and Collette to return to Ireland.
Liz said: “But it was very tough on them and on Collette in particular as they had more friends in England than they had in Ireland. After a few years, Collette and the two children Alana (7) and Cillian (5) moved back to England and Trevor stayed here with us.
“They are still on very good terms but that is one of the hardest things for Trevor at the moment, not being able to travel over to see them all.”
In normal circumstances, Trevor would be using the facilities of Headway Limerick which provide services and support for people affected by Acquired Brain Injury.
“We are lucky in that he is very independent in some ways and Headway is a huge positive for him. It is a great outlet for him every day and he is exhausted when when he comes home. Not having that routine is another thing that he misses at the moment (due to the lockdown restrictions).
"But Headway are fantastic, they ring every couple of days to check in on us.”
The monotony of the lockdown was broken by that special virtual surprise last week.
The original plan was for him to have travelled over for a celebration in Birmingham.
But with travel restrictions in place, a workaround was required and how the Sean McDermotts club rose to the challenge.
Chairman Keith Sweeney, secretary Michelle Dowling along with members Matthew Macklin, Dennis Byrne, Angela Gilbride, Orla Sweeney, Tommy Dowling, John Roache, Evan Mulligan and Joey Dowling led the charge and set about spreading the message, asking sporting greats to participate by recording short messages.
Liz continued: “Michelle rang and said they would do this video. I thought it would just be a few people from the club over there. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it.
"Having the likes of Brian O’Driscoll and Paul McGrath wishing him a happy birthday. He was thrilled to bits. We are flabbergasted with the effort that the club put in. They are mad about him. It means so much in these times.”