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Quinlan reveals eye-gouge woe

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, but just days before the squad's departure he was the centre of a storm that cost him basic earnings of £38,000 .

"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 his autoboiography, 'Red Blooded', which is launched on Wednesday.

"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?

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