John Jackson has revealed himself as the ‘hard man’ of Ireland’s senior men’s hockey squad, after admitting he was willing to continue playing even if he lost the sight in one eye.
This weekend, the Mossley man hopes to help Ireland qualify for the Olympics on home turf at UCD as the FIH Electric Ireland Road to London 2012 gets under way with six countries battling for one qualifying spot.
But that looked a distant dream when Jackson was left with a triple cheek bone fracture and a double skull fracture following a clash of heads during a game in 2010.
Furthermore, nerve and retinal damage left him without vision in his right eye for an agonising spell.
He recalled: “That was a scary experience. Bones heal but the biggest issue was my eye. I couldn’t see out of it for three or four weeks and then had double vision for another three weeks.”
Many would have feared this was a potential death knell for a promising international career but Jackson’s belief that he would return never wavered.
“I didn’t know if it would ever come back. But I always knew I would play again. There were a couple of weeks where I thought, ‘I don’t know how I’ll play with one eye’.
“That was what was going through my head. The doctors sorted me out with a couple of metal plates and some plastic inserts and, if anything, the right side of my head is now stronger than my left!”
In time, his vision came back with the defender particularly thankful to the work at Ulster Hospital in Dundonald. Since his recovery, Jackson has gone on to play professionally with Braxgata in Belgium. The experience of life as a full-time athlete has had a huge knock-on impact on the national team.
“Life in Belgium is fantastic, something I wish I had done sooner,” he said. “Circumstances maybe didn’t allow me to do that. I’ve taken the opportunity in an Olympic year so I can focus on my hockey. It’s a different culture, a different lifestyle but one that is going to set me up not just for next year but in future life as well — as a coach, as a hockey enthusiast; it’s an experience I’ll take with me.
“The past few weeks with Ireland have been like a club season rolled into seven weeks. It’s a lot more intense because you need to cram in as much as you can into the time you have.
“Everyone has improved their strength and conditioning scores from last year and that just shows everyone is pushing hard to realise their dreams.”
Jackson believes the side is in superb shape to break new ground and make it to London 2012.
He said: “For the past three or four years since being involved with Revs [Irish coach Paul Revington], that’s always been our number one target.”
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