On the evening of June 28, 2014, Jamie Wall was supposed to be captaining Kilbrittain in their county intermediate hurling championship second round clash against Valley Rovers. Instead, he lay in the back of an ambulance headed for Cork University Hospital where an abscess on his spine was discovered.
In a moment, his life changed forever.
On February 18, 2015, Wall was discharged from the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire and began the search to find a replacement for hurling and football.
“I wasn’t getting a kick out of wheelchair basketball or tennis. Going to training on a Tuesday or Thursday was something that would get me down rather than have me say, ‘yes, I have training tonight’, like how it used to be. It was no slight against disability sports, I just wasn’t enjoying these games,” recalls the 24-year old.
“I wanted something that motivated me, something I could have an influence on, on my games, the games I grew up with and the games I wanted to grow old with.
“It wasn’t just the wonderful days I missed. I missed caring so much about something to be utterly distraught about it for three days after, caring about something to feel physically ill the morning of it. Thus began my journey into coaching.”
Wall, along with two friends, took over the Kilbrittain U21s. They played four and lost four. Not a great start. Later that year, Gavin O’Mahony and Shane Nolan asked him to join the Mary I Fitzgibbon Cup management. He’d graduated from the teacher-training college in 2013 and had also been part of the first Mary I team to reach a Fitzgibbon Cup final that same year. Three years after falling at the final hurdle as a player, he was part of the backroom team that oversaw their maiden victory.
“The morning of the final was a year after I was discharged and 20 months after the initial injury; I woke up that morning and felt physically ill, felt sick during breakfast and had knots in my stomach on the drive to Cork IT.
“I remember coming into the dressing-room, feeling the nervous energy in the group and thinking, ‘I thought this was gone forever, I thought I’d never get this back’.
“That was the day the bug caught hold. I was thinking, ‘I want a piece of this. This isn’t playing, but this is something that really gets me going’.
Eamonn Cregan stepped down as manager following the extra-time win over UL and Wall put himself forward for the position. His offer was accepted. The week before their first get together, he watched a Paul Kinnerk coaching presentation almost a thousand times. Attempting to conduct an entirely games-based session scared him half to death. He was determined, though, to go outside of his comfort zone.
“When I was in England last year, before I had started the Mary I job, I took on the Cambridge Parnells Gaelic football club. I wanted to get involved in something that allowed me to socialise and engage in my games over there.
“I knew going down to each session that I’d let the players take the warm-up, do a good hard tackling drill, then a match and a good hard run at the end. Everyone would go away feeling that was a good hard session. The fact was that I didn’t have the balls to engage in any real coaching. I didn’t have the balls to try something that might go wrong. I did a safe session.”
His approach at Mary I couldn’t be more different.
“After one of the early sessions in last October, Limerick senior Darragh O’Donovan said to me, ‘Jaysus, this is a fair adventurous session. We just flaked the shit out of each other with tackle bags this time last year’.
“That told me I was going on the right track. When you don’t engage in real coaching, you are being dishonest with the group.”
This afternoon in Dangan, he’ll find himself sharing a sideline with Davy Fitzgerald. The reigning Fitzgibbon Cup champions boast three wins and a draw from their four outings. It’s a fair improvement from the Kilbrittain U21s winless run.
A favourite quote of Walls is that of retired Italian football coach Arrigo Sacchi: “I never believed that in order to become a jockey you have to have been a horse first.”
Jamie Wall has overcome a fair few hurdles in the last couple of years and he’ll do everything in his power to ensure two clean jumps at Galway this weekend.