Bill Beckett has had a busy and challenging few months on the work front. Our conversation, though, does not begin with his role as a general practitioner during a global pandemic, rather time spent as a patient on surgery and treatment tables over the last couple of years.
Beckett hurls with St Finbarr’s, and has done so since 2015. A native of Freshford, work brought him to Cork city. And while he initially kept up appearances with his home club in Kilkenny, the commute after long working days eventually became too much.
However, the 34-year-old hasn’t pulled on the blue jersey as much as he would have liked since transferring five years ago.
Eleven minutes from the end of the Barrs’ 2017 championship opener, Beckett, with 0-5 on the scoreboard, was running for a puckout when his knee gave way. He crumpled in agony on the Páirc Uí Rinn sod, his kneecap in his quad.
“Shocking pain,” he recalls.
A ruptured patellar tendon was the diagnosis. Surgery was required, followed by 10 months of rehab grind.
He returned in 2018, captaining his adopted club to the last eight of the county championship.
But his 2019 season was to prove even shorter than two years earlier.
On the field for less than 10 minutes of their first-round championship game against Carrigtwohill, an opponent planted their foot down on his left boot as he attempted to break the tackle.
“I ended up fracture dislocating my midfoot. I was gone again for the year. It was a real sickener.”
Beckett’s lisfranc injury wouldn’t be at all common among GAA players. Jockeys who endure the misfortune of having their a foot trapped in the stirrup as they come off a horse and rugby players are the more common cases.
For Beckett, an All-Ireland intermediate winning captain with Kilkenny in 2010, there were no guarantees he’d get back on the field.
“It was just a case of hoping the foot healed and that I would be pain-free walking, let alone go running again. I wasn't holding any major faith that I would be back hurling at all. I had the bad knee injury in 2017, got back from that, and then when you get another big injury, you are trying to weigh up, at 34 years of age, is this worth it anymore. I wasn't expecting to probably make it back, but I am glad I have and that I'm holding up to some degree.”
Saturday's city derby against the Glen will be his first time lacing up for a championship fixture in 14 and a half months.
“I a massively delighted to have games back. From a personal point of view, with the injuries and my age, where you’d be thinking, 'will I play again', and then being able to play again, you appreciate it. And then on the back of a lockdown, everyone is more appreciative of just being able to train and meet up with your teammates and friends. It is good for your mental health, good for the headspace. To start back with such a fixture, you wouldn’t want it any other way.”
The GP, whose work is split between Blackpool Bridge Surgery and Kinsale Medical, describes the GAA’s Covid-19 protocols as “hard on clubs” in terms of implementation and adherence, but absolutely necessary.
Reflecting on a “whirlwind” couple of months, light at the end of the tunnel was not always visible.
His day-to-day work involved a significant amount of phone triaging, symptoms called out from the other end of the line rather than face-to-face engagement with the patient.
Of course, if people were willing to come into the surgery, there was a concerted effort “to keep the show on the road” with regard to non-Covid matters.
No more than any other medical practice, his places of work quickly reconfigured their settings to allow for isolation rooms and ensure that optimal safety was being achieved every time a patient entered the building.
“When the lockdown came in March and you were looking at the infection rates and the spread in other countries, you just thought that if it was going to go like other countries, it was going to be pretty bad [here].
"You would have felt that it was going to be bad and you weren't sure how long the lockdown was going to be, when would we even see playing sport again, or out to restaurants, or shopping, or anything like that. It was hard to envisage what way it was going to play out.
“Public buy-in has been great and we are reaping the rewards of that now, being able to go out and even play sport. People still need to remain vigilant and keep doing what they are doing.
"The community transmission rates seem to be low and staying at a steady rate, but that could change at any point,” he said prior to Thursday's jump to 85 new cases.