Ulster champions Ruairi Óg, Cushendall, can count among their number this season a player who has played through a broken neck to gain their 11th Ulster title.
After the win over St Joseph’s Ballycran, manager Eamon Gillan revealed that full-back Martin Burke had suffered a broken bone in his neck while on county duty at the start of the year but still made it back to play in the Antrim championship.
Burke explained how the unusual injury occurred, saying, “It was the start of the year, the first training session with the county. We were in the gym, I dropped the weight bar down on the back of my neck and broke a vertebrae.
“(It was the) C6 Spinous Process, just clipped it, straight off. We were doing squat jumps and it came down and hit me.”
While the pain was keen, Burke did not visit a hospital for the first four days. Even now it requires attention and on the way to Sunday’s game, he had team mate Ryan McCambridge massaging the area while travelling in the car.
“I was in a collar for four months and the start of August was the first time I was back at hurling,” he continued, while revealing he has not had surgery.
“No, they said it was stable enough. It hasn’t healed, the Spinal Process is actually just chopped off at the back and it’s non-union, so it hasn’t actually healed.”
The specialists informed him that his cervical spine is still well covered and protected and there is little pain now, save for a tingling that travels down into his hands that he remains blasé about.
“I’ve been told I’m mad,” he states.
“You know yourself, I went up to Antrim [Area Hospital] and they tell you ‘no, no contact sport, give it up.’
“It wasn’t until Antrim put me through to see the top specialist that they said ‘this isn’t going to be a problem, you can do your thing’.
“I went to a very good physio in Ballymena, he was a big rugby man, Cameron Steele. He was used to dealing with neck injuries and he had me in head saddles and everything, so it was three or four months of hard work to try and get back.”
As he went through the various medical professionals, he got the answers he wanted to hear.
“The original doctor said, ‘don’t do it,’ but I think that’s just their blanket response to all neck injuries.
“When I got to see the specialist they said it wouldn’t be an issue.
“The rest of my family, my girlfriend, they were kind of saying ‘look, you’re 29 now, you’ve the rest of your life to think about’. But Alex Delargy cut the tips of his fingers off and he’s back. Arron Graffin came back from the knee, although unfortunately he’s done it again today.
“It shows the determination to be part of this. It’s a killer. I was in doing the gym work, doing a programme and there’s maybe eight or nine of us in and the rest out training. We’re sitting watching them and it’s a killer, but you know there could be days like this down the line so you just keep at it.”
With the Four Seasons Cup in the dressing room, he insisted it was all worth it.
“That’s why you come back. It’s not for the leagues and the Féis Cup. It’s satisfying to get over the line because it’s been three years since we got here.”
Burke has also played through an internal hernia, and has delayed the surgery until after the All-Ireland series.
Meanwhile, initial assessments of Arron Graffin’s knee injury in the Ulster final are seeming positive, with reports holding that he dislocated his left knee.
“It seemed to pop, because I heard them popping it back in not that far from me at the time,” said manager Eamon Gillan at the medical treatment Graffin received at the time that delayed the game by ten minutes and led to Graffin being carried off on a stretcher. The noise was greeted with an audible groan in the stands.
The centre-back had previously dislocated his right kneecap in a match against Westmeath in 2015 and Gillan will be hoping that he can play some part in their All-Ireland semi-final against the eventual Galway champions in February.