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Dan Tuohy: It's still hitting home that my playing days are over after horror injury

 

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Dan Tuohy spent seven years at Ulster, from 2009 to 2016.

Dan Tuohy spent seven years at Ulster, from 2009 to 2016.

©INPHO/Presseye/Matt Mackey

Dan Tuohy spent seven years at Ulster, from 2009 to 2016.

As usual, there isn't much which remains off-limits with Dan Tuohy.

Whether it be the career-ending arm injury - sustained last September - or his struggles with not playing and perhaps never having full power in his hand, his various plans for the future, or February's attention-grabbing "rotten to the core" retirement statement regarding the game, nothing is really off the agenda for the former Ulster and Ireland lock.

And then there is life in locked-down France.

Holed up with his young family in the Brittany city of Vannes, the soon-to-be 35-year-old has had ample time to mull things over since the restrictions were introduced in mid-March.

"If lockdown ends on May 11 (the stated date for a possible lift in restrictions) we'll have been like this for 56 days as a family," says the player who turned out for Ulster 136 times between 2009 and his departure to Bristol four years ago.

He and wife Keely, who hails from Northern Ireland, have two children, Jaxon who is five and 18-month-old daughter Isabelle.

"For the first little while it was a bit of a novelty and we had amazing weather so we let them out in the garden.

"Then a week ago the cracks started to appear," he laughs at a restrictive lifestyle that has become the new normal.

"Having me at home has its drawbacks. Me and the wife were at each other and it just took us to say, 'Hang on, this is getting silly'.

"But it's difficult. Jaxon is missing school and we do a little bit with him home schooling-wise.

"We walk the dog together as a family and that's it, we don't overcomplicate it too much.

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Dan Tuohy with his wife Keely, son Jaxon and daughter Isabelle.

Dan Tuohy with his wife Keely, son Jaxon and daughter Isabelle.

Dan Tuohy with his wife Keely, son Jaxon and daughter Isabelle.

 

"You are only allowed out to the supermarket or pharmacy, take the dog for a walk and your exercise has to be within 1km of your house.

"When out for a run I've seen a few police vehicles floating about and checking people's ID, but from what I gather they're not just as strict on that as they were at the start.

"But we've got it fine compared to some people so we can't really complain. We're safe and our families at home both in Northern Ireland and England are safe too," adds the Bristol-born-and-raised former player who was on the losing side with Ulster in 2012's Heineken Cup Final.

All a very far cry from last month when the family took a few days south of Brittany along the Atlantic coast just before the country ramped things up in its battle against the pandemic.

Coronavirus has also had other impacts on Tuohy's plans. In his second year at Vannes, he was the club's skipper before a freak injury struck him down last September but the coaching staff at the French PRO D2 side invited him to stick around and help mentor the players.

He had never really thought about any form of informal coaching role but was actually enjoying it, though he isn't sure if the club will retain his services.

Tuohy even imagined his "wishy-washy role" could bring him some form of structured closure to his lengthy playing career in that Vannes' final game of the season could be turned into a proper signing off but, now, that's all gone too thanks to the pandemic.

Indeed, with no sport now permitted in the country until September, any type of finish to the League looks highly unlikely.

"I've still got to get my head around that the playing side is over for me," explains Tuohy who, after Ulster, had stints at Bristol, Leicester Tigers and Stade Francais before arriving at Vannes.

"And that's something that I've definitely not come to terms with yet and coronavirus has given it no closure whatsoever."

The couple are also exploring the chance of relocating to the United States and are putting together immigrant visa applications.

Tuohy was due to go out last month to explore opportunities for a potential role in Major League Rugby but then the virus put paid to that as it did his planned trip to take in Ulster's European Quarter-Final at Toulouse.

"We're talking about the future and what we're going to do and there are big decisions to make," he says, with returning to Northern Ireland also not entirely off the agenda.

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Tuohy won 11 caps with Ireland

Tuohy won 11 caps with Ireland

©INPHO/James Crombie

Tuohy won 11 caps with Ireland

Reminiscing, though, can be a comfort blanket and he recently watched Ulster's Heineken Cup Quarter-Final win at Munster back in 2012 after Chris Henry messaged him that it was on YouTube.

"You can't remember every game but you remember key moments," he says. "I just can't believe that's all gone and I don't think I ever really thought I'd retire."

It all ended in a flash though. Accidentally dropped when being lifted high to take a kick-off, he fell badly and the impact meant his left arm was as he describes it "a complete mess".

Surgery number nine followed but nerve damage left his hand working at 70-80% capacity which is as good as it may get. He can't even make a proper thumbs up.

"Knee, ankle, two hand ops, three arm ops and a shoulder," is how the 11-times-capped Ireland international almost nonchalantly puts it. "I've a plate in my left forearm, my right forearm and now the same plate in my left humerus."

Even at the time of the injury, with a substantial shot of morphine running through him, he told his wife that he couldn't and wouldn't go on.

Mind you, he only really began the process of facing up to something more akin to reality once he was definitively told that, medically, it had to end.

He took to Twitter in February with his lengthy and unorthodox sign-off, the sport's "rotten to the core" comments directed at the RFU's swinging cuts to the English Championship and the financial manoeuvrings uncovered at Saracens.

There was also typical forthrightness about dealing with leaving the pro game and finally being separated by the comfort zone it offered.

"I got a lot of positive feedback from players saying, 'Thanks for saying a lot of that stuff'. Some guys from Ulster were in touch to say they had struggled since finishing and it was good to hear that.

"I've tried to give my opinion and people can do what they want with it," he says.

We, hopefully, haven't heard the last of Dan Tuohy.

Belfast Telegraph