Padraig McNulty: The long road to recovery

Padraig McNulty is confident he’ll return to the field of play in 2023 after undergoing surgery for the second time on a serious arm injury. He speaks to Niall Gartland…

SINCE sustaining a career-threatening arm injury against Donegal back in Feburary, Tyrone and Dungannon’s Padraig McNulty has played only 20 minutes of football – a cameo in a league encounter against Loughmacrory before missing the entirety of the club championship.

It’s not too surprising really – it wasn’t your ordinary broken arm, but his humerus, the second largest bone in the body, was snapped in half following an entirely accidental collision with Donegal footballer Odhran McFadden Ferry. To put it into the starkest contest, it’s an injury more associated with car and motorcycle accidents.

McNulty, who returned to the Tyrone set-up ahead of the 2022 season after a three-year hiatus, recently underwent surgery on the arm for a second time.

That wasn’t in the script, but he’s confident that he’s on the road to recovery and is now targeting a return to action in February, roughly a year since the incident happened. We touched base with McNulty to discuss his lengthy rehabilitation and why throwing in the towel was never an option.

Niall Gartland: I know you had a setback just before the championship, I think you had to go through surgery?

Padraig McNulty: Yeah, it was my second surgery. It healed a bit after the first one, but it was taking too slow. The bone I broke takes roughly six months to heal, and the x-ray was showing progress, but I knew it wasn’t right. I went for a more in-depth scan and the middle of the bone still hadn’t healed. It wasn’t safe for me to back to football so I had to go back for another operation. The basic rule is that if it hasn’t healed by six months, it’s not going to. I went to the Royal [Victoria] in Belfast and they’ve put another plate in.

NG: How did the surgery go, is it still too early to say?

PMN: I’m only eight weeks in but it’s gone well and feels better than the last time. There’s no guarantees but it feels stronger. I got another x-ray last week, there’s more bone now so I’m more confident this time around that I’ll be back playing hopefully.

NG: You played a few minutes at the tail-end of the league, at that point I thought you were on the home straight.

PMN: I’d been given the go-ahead to play a bit of football because the outside of the bone had healed, but I knew it didn’t feel right. They thought that might have been due to the extra workload and stress from playing and training, but in the back of my head I knew it wasn’t fixed. At that point I got the CT scan and it showed the middle of the bone hadn’t healed, the metal plate was basically just holding it together.

NG: It’s been an awfully long time on the sidelines for you, does it feel like it’s been one step forward, two steps back?

PMN: Yeah definitely. I’d been with Tyrone and I was going through my rebab and running and I was thinking I’ll get back in before the season’s over, and that didn’t happen. Then I aimed to get back for the club championship and that didn’t materialise either.

NG: Have you been able to keep your spirits up, knowing you will be back playing football again, touch wood?

PMN: I wasn’t very happy having to go back for a second operation, but it’s the only way it’s going to heal and I will get back. As soon as I heard I had to get another operation I decided to go for it as I don’t want to miss next season as well. My spirits weren’t too good around the time of the club championship, it was tough to miss out.

NG: Particularly the Errigal Ciaran game [Dungannon were knocked out of the quarter-final stages by Errigal], you’d have loved to have been involved in that one, to try to dig them out of a hole.

PMN: I’d have loved to have been there but it just wasn’t to be. I tried to help the boys as much as possible, giving them advice and help along the way. The aim is to get back to action in February so it’ll be a full year out, and that’s if everything goes according to plan.

NG: I would assume both the Dungannon and Tyrone camps have been very supportive?

PMN: They have, they’ve been very accommodating with anything I need. Tyrone have done all my physio and at the moment they’re helping to get the arm back up to strength. Louis O’Connor has been my main physio, he’s dealing with all my rehab. He works in the Royal and helped get me my operation, I couldn’t do it without him. The club has been very good as well, they were very supportive in terms of taking the consultant’s advice and making sure I didn’t come back too soon.

NG: Looking back on the incident, it was a freak accident with Odhran McFadden-Ferry.

PMN: That’s right, he jumped for the ball, it was his ball really but I thought I might get a hand to it. His knee hit my upper arm and it just snapped. Between the force of his knee and the speed I was going at, it snapped the bone in half.

NG: Supporters at the time knew something was badly wrong, I can’t even imagine what it was like for you personally.

PMN: A lot of supporters have told me they could hear the crack from the stands. My elbow went behind itself. It basically twisted the whole way round, I had to catch it and pull it back in. It was a freak accident really, I’ve gone for balls all my life like that. It’s not a common injury but it’s just the way the knee hit me, it’s typically a high impact injury you get with car and motorbike accidents.

NG: What was the rest of that evening like?

PMN: I was in Letterkenny Hospital until five in the morning getting x-rays, I was in a lot of pain. I saw the consultant on Monday, they did another x-ray in the Royal and said I needed surgery. I got the operation that following Friday.

NG: I imagine you weren’t really able to do anything at the time?

PMN: You aren’t really supposed to move and I was in that much pain anyway. The first few days the bone was still moveable, it was in a sling but other than that there was nothing supporting it. The bone was still broken, then they plated it and secured it a bit more.

NG: Did you miss much work? [Padraig works for his father Martin’s fast-food business in Dungannon, ‘Big Mac’s’].

PMN: My job is very hands on, I was on my feet a lot. I was off for about four months, I was able to do a bit of paper work at home but it was a long stint without being in the place itself. This time I won’t be off for as long hopefully as there’s a bit more bone in the arm.

NG: It sounds like it’s impacted your personal life just as much as football?

PMN: It’s been hard on my wife [Alicia]. For the first week I couldn’t really move so she was basically looking after me as well as our child. It’s been tough on her, I couldn’t drive at that point so she had to bring me to appointments.

NG: It must be hard not being able to drive around the place when you’re used to it.

PMN: That part’s the worst nearly. It’s great normally having that freedom, I’m back driving now, and if there’s anything I need I can just go and do it. Otherwise you’re relying on others to help and I felt bad for asking them.

NG: Do you feel there’s light at the end of the tunnel, that you will be back by February?

PMN: It’s still another three months away but the aim is to get back playing by the middle of February. My appointment the other day was good so they’re confident I’ll be okay.

NG: When you first got back into contact training before your setback, were the lads reluctant to get stuck into you?

PMN: Yeah, especially the club lads, they didn’t want to go near me initially but eventually they did. To be honest I tried to stay out of contact because I didn’t feel confident – in my head I didn’t feel I was right.

NG: Do you feel confident that you’ll get back to being the all-action midfielder that you were prior the injury?

PMN: I’ll be happy once I get training under my belt and get through the first few tackles. It could take a game or two to get back into the swing of things, but I’m confident that if my recovery goes according to plan I’ll be back as normal.

NG: Would you like to get at least another of couple of years under your belt with the county?

PMN: I’d definitely like to get a good go at it this year, there’s no guarantees but I’ll see how things are with my arm, but on the whole I’m optimistic about it.

NG: With so much time away, have you reminisced much on Dungannon’s championship win two years ago, it was probably the most memorable club championship victory of my lifetime anyway.

PMN: A bit, but we don’t like to reflect on it too much, because as a team and a club we’re striving to get back to more county finals. We’ve fallen short in the last couple of years but we’ve been beaten by the two eventual winners (Dromore and Errigal). We’re striving to get back to the top, to get that feeling again of reaching county finals and semi-finals. 2020 is obviously going to be memorable for a very long time in Dungannon but I wouldn’t mind a couple more medals!

NG: You seem to be confident no matter what happens that you’ll be back playing in some capacity anyway.

PMN: Not coming back isn’t an option really as I enjoy it too much. I’ll take things one step at a time. We’ve a second baby on the way as well, so that’s another reason I want the arm sorted as well, to be able to help out.

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