Former Munster hooker Damien Varley revealed he broke down in tears in a taxi after learning he would have to retire from rugby because of a debilitating foot injury.
And now the 31-year-old is focused on building up the strength in his foot to prepare for a very different career path.
Varley, who won three Ireland caps after making his debut against Australia in 2010, came off the bench during Munster’s 34-23 win over Leinster in the Pro12 last October but that was to be his last professional rugby appearance. An operation on the injury sustained in training in 2013 and a period of rehabilitation failed to fix the problem.
He was told by his surgeon in London, where he played with Wasps in 2008-09, that he had no option but to call it a day.
“As the months went on, I knew the pain I was experiencing wasn’t normal so I knew heading back to London in January that it could be bad news, and ultimately it was,” Varley said on RTÉ Radio One yesterday.
“I had an operation in October and unfortunately it wasn’t getting better so I was told to hang up my boots and try to rehab my foot for quality of life. I’ve been trying to deal with that since January. It was only when I’d left the surgery and was meeting up with the team — they were playing Saracens the following day — I was in a taxi and I broke down. The realisation hit me and I got an awful shock. I was at a stage where I thought I was playing well. It was coming into a World Cup year and I had high hopes...
“I just started crying. The poor taxi man must’ve thought there was a nut job in the back seat. It just hit me all of a sudden that rugby was no more.
“I have to do physio for the next few months, and a lot of rehab. The way I walk, the gait of the foot has gone a bit askew and I’m still experiencing a bit of pain if I’m on my feet for a few hours. Even if you’re playing well in your mid-30s, you always know it is coming to an end at some point. You try and plan as well as you can but ultimately when it’s gone it’s a bit of a shock. There is always a worry about what you do next, how do you get an income in the next six to 10 months.”
The next chapter, he hopes, will involve a career in the arts. Varley started playing music when he was four and studied the violin for 14 years. He performed on the Saturday Night Show last year and he revealed he almost went down a very different career path.
“I almost fell out of rugby a few years ago,” he explained. “I used to do a lot of musicals in the Limerick Musical Society so we used to put on shows every year. It was all amateur work but hopefully we can expand that in the next couple of years.
“Singing is probably my biggest love. It’s always something that from a very young age I wanted to be involved in and I was blessed that I had parents guiding me through education. When the opportunity to play rugby arose, I followed that because music was always something that I could follow down the line when rugby was finished. It’s exciting to be facing a new chapter now, whatever that may be.”
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