Bishopstown selector Kevin Driscoll on living with cystic fibrosis: ‘There was a period where I didn’t really like going to matches’

"I began to lose control of the car. I managed to half park in out of the way. I was coughing up blood. I tried to get out of my car and ring Maria, my wife. I got the phone in my hand and that’s the last thing I remember."

Kevin Driscoll hasn’t been as stringent with his cocooning protocols in recent weeks.

Instead of sitting tight inside the front door, he has been straying out beyond the front garden wall.

Kevin Driscoll is not part of the over-seventies club. He’s another 20 years to run before joining that particular group.

Instead, its the cystic fibrosis diagnosis he received as a child that has forced him to shun much of the outside world for the past two and a half months.

March 10 that was his last trip to a supermarket. He can remember the date because it was made while on his way to Páirc Uí Chaoimh for Bishopstown’s Seandún U21 football championship semi-final against St Vincent’s. It was also to prove the club's last victory before lockdown.

He was at work in Phil O’Sullivan Electrical the following day when a cystic fibrosis nurse from CUH rang to tell him to go home and shut himself away from the public and the pandemic.

And that’s what he’s done. Well, almost.

What has taken him out walking in recent weeks is the Malin to Mizen Head fundraiser organised by Bishopstown GAA. Players from the club were divided into teams, each one attempting to be the first to clock 615km, the very distance which separates Ireland’s most northerly and southerly points.

It quickly became more than a race. Club members not part of any team took daily to the footpaths and roads in this pocket of Cork city to lend their support. The chosen beneficiary, in a nod to Kevin’s battle with the disease, is Cystic Fibrosis Ireland. The initial target was €5,000. They’re currently on €22,000. So Kevin felt the need to do his small bit.

He’d slip on his face mask, find the quietest road, and add his few steps to the cause.

“I am basically just staying away from everybody when doing a walk, and that's it then for the day,” he explains.

“I was honoured they chose CF Ireland, privileged, really.”

That the fundraising idea is the brainchild of Bishopstown footballer Noel O’Donovan is rather apt.

He was one of the first people to find Kevin on Melbourn Road in October of 2006 when the latter suffered a massive bleed on his lungs when driving home from a club meeting. Driscoll spent the next eight days on life support at Cork University Hospital.

“I wasn't feeling great at the meeting. I was very chesty. I had just turned onto Melbourn Road on the way home and I remember feeling this giant rush coming on me.

I began to lose control of the car. I managed to half park in out of the way. I was coughing up blood. I tried to get out of my car and ring Maria, my wife. I got the phone in my hand and that’s the last thing I remember.

Having lost two siblings to CF when both were infants, there was an inescapable fear it would now take Kevin. “As each day went by, they were saying to my wife and brothers, Peter and Brendan, that there was less chance of me coming out of it because of my poor lung function. My wife stayed by my side for the eight days. Thankfully, I pulled through.”

He was immediately put on the lung transplant list. But until such time as he was lucky enough to be called, he would have to wear an oxygen tank.

No more than this past month, it was his connection with the club that proved an immeasurable help in the aftermath.

“There were only two places I felt comfortable, at home here with Maria - my mother Betty lives onto us - and up at the club. People didn't take any notice of you up in the club. You were still 'Dricky', still one of the lads.

“It wasn't a case of ‘oh look at him with the oxygen tank’. I could still go up to the bar or to matches. I went to executive meetings and you'd still have a couple of barneys inside there, but that's the way I wanted it. You weren't treated differently. Phil O’Sullivan Electrical, too, were excellent. They’ve been with me throughout all of this.

“Sometimes, you'd be out in places and people would look at you differently. I never had that in the club.”

His involvement with the club goes right the way back to when he was a youngster. He played hurling and football before a series of chest infections brought on by his condition forced him to stop at 14.

It was a difficult transition given he had been reared on a diet of GAA. His late father Paddy was a defender on the Cork football team which lost the 1956 and ‘57 All-Ireland finals. He would also act as a selector with the 1973 All-Ireland winning Cork side and become chairman of the Cork County Board.

“I was privileged from the point of view that I was only a young fella and yet, because of dad’s roles I was getting to kick the ball back to household names at Cork training. I remember being in the Croke Park dressing-room when Cork won the All-Ireland minor football title in 1981, a team which had the likes of Tony O’Sullivan, Colm O'Neill, and Tony Leahy.

“After it was broken to me that I had cystic fibrosis and I stopped playing GAA, there was a period where I didn't really like going to matches. I just felt I should be playing out there. I'd come back from matches kinda pissed off.

“Now, I never resented the GAA because of the fact that I couldn’t play. I resented myself, probably. I blamed myself. I was looking at two brothers playing hurling and football, my dad was such an accomplished player, and here's me now and I can't do this. That was the toughest part of growing up.”

Jerry Lucey, full-back on the Cork team which lost the 1967 All-Ireland football decider, roped him into helping out with the Bishopstown minor B footballers in 1992. He wasn’t much older than the players he was training. It didn’t matter. He was back on the pitch. He’s been involved at pretty much every grade since and is the current senior football selector.

It’s this length of service, even when his own health and lung function was on the floor, that motivated the club to pick Cystic Fibrosis Ireland as the beneficiaries of their Malin to Mizen race.

Kevin's health, he is glad to report, is much improved. The oxygen tank is long gone. On April 22, 2008, he received a call to say he had effectively won the lottery. He was flown to Newcastle by coastguard helicopter where a 12-hour double-lung transplant surgery was successfully undertaken.

“Because I’ve had a transplant, I have to keep fit. There has been the small bit of walking and I am lucky we have a big enough garden as I know of people with CF stuck in flats during this lockdown.”

Several hands made this fundraising initiative a fine success, including Caitriona Hynes, whose father Jim (82) sadly passed away from Covid-19 on March 31.

“Jim, who came to us from Mayo, was a great clubman. Fiercely popular. Caitriona has previously served as club secretary and she has been fantastic in helping out with the fundraiser despite her father’s passing. It is just a testament that people feel comfortable backing the club because the club always puts an arm around them.”

For more details: give.everydayhero.com/ie/bishopstown-gaa-virtual-malin2mizen-run-615km

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