Former Ireland back row Alan Quinlan has revealed how he sank into depression following the eye-gouge that forced him to miss the 2009 Lions tour.
Quinlan was banned for 12 weeks for the incident involving Leo Cullen in Munster’s Heineken Cup semi-final defeat by Leinster in May last year.
His abrasive style had led to his shock selection for the Lions tour to South Africa.
Just days before the squad’s departure, however, he was the centre of a storm that cost him basic earnings of £38,000 and the chance of being involved in one of the sport’s greatest Test series.
In his autobiography ’Red Blooded’, which is launched tomorrow, he explains the repercussions also had a profound affect on his psychology.
“The act was brief but the consequences were almost a life sentence for me,” wrote Quinlan, who was 34 at the time and is now 36.
“In the 0.4 of a second it took for my hand to travel across Leo’s face, I had no idea the impact it would have on my life, on my family’s life.
“Within minutes of the game ending, my entire world plunged into darkness.
“I was about to lose my place on the Lions tour; I was about to be vilified in the press; I was about to damned as a dirty player by a lot of people.
“But having my reputation ruined wasn’t the worst of it.
“Within hours of the disappointment of losing a Heineken Cup semi-final to Leinster, I was battling something much deeper and much darker.
“I sank into a depression which took me months to get out of and, by the end, I knew how lucky I was to have come up for air again.
“It engulfed me. It subsumed me. It frightened me.”
The eye-gouge was widely condemned amid general disbelief Quinlan had acted with probably the standout achievement of his international career looming.
However, the Munster forward, who won the last of his 27 Ireland caps in November 2008, continues to protest his innocence.
“In the early days after it happened, when the pressure on me was almost unbearable, I went back over that moment, time and time again, in my own mind,” he said.
“I’d watch the TV replay and know it didn’t look good. But, really, the TV shots didn’t mean anything to me.
“I wanted to know my own mind. I wanted to confirm to myself that I hadn’t tried to gouge Leo.
“So, I’ve replayed the moment hundreds, maybe thousands, of times in my mind and the answer is always the same. No.
“There was no intent in what I did, no malice. It was just a reaction to him, to what he was doing.
“It wasn’t a conscious decision, I just grabbed anything I could.
“Why would I start doing that at this stage in my career? Going for somebody’s eyes. Why would I do that?
“I’m thirty-four. I’m in the last couple of years of my career.
“I have a tough reputation and I catch a lot of flak for being mouthy and for giving away stupid penalties but I’m not a dirty player.”
Meanwhile, Luke Fitzgerald insists Ireland’s confidence remains solid ahead of Saturday’s clash with New Zealand.
Ireland have been poor this autumn, losing to South Africa and struggling abysmally against Samoa, but Fitzgerald refuses to hit the panic button.
“I think everyone is confident and I’m confident that whatever team takes the field on Saturday will be able to do a good job for us,” he said.
“Personally I feel very confident. Within the squad I don’t think there is any sign of anyone lacking in confidence.
“I think everyone is very confident. Maybe the spectacle hasn’t been there in some of the games, but I don’t think either team have played well in the two games.
“We know there are areas where we need to improve but I think we are going in the right direction.”