Believe me when I say I’ve met some tremendously brave and courageous sportspeople in my lifetime.
In particular, I think of the Dunlops and many of the other motorcycle road racers when they sustained quite serious injuries yet always chose to play down the obvious pain or significance, choosing instead to concentrate on just how soon they could get back on a bike and back into the thick of the action. In truth, they are a breed apart.
That’s one of the main reasons I often struggle to understand many modern day footballers who feign injury and roll around like they’ve been shot, clearly either looking for sympathy or perhaps just to con the referee. It’s embarrassing and, more often than not, nothing short of pathetic.
This week, however, I met a player who is most definitely an exception to that rule and is a shining light in a sport which has become somewhat cloudy in recent years — and that man is none other than the Cliftonville goalkeeper Richard Brush.
What an incredible human being this fella is and what a breath of fresh air he has been not only to football but to life in general.
It was November 2018 when Richard was driving home to Sligo having just beaten Newry City in a live TV game when, just about half an hour from his house, he suddenly felt unwell. In his own words, it was just like a wave coming over him, so he wisely decided to pull over and park up by the side of the road.
As he did so, he tried to use his left hand but it refused to respond. He then attempted to move his left leg and foot but, again, nothing.
At this point, Richard quickly realised he was in the process of having a stroke and, as he dialled for help with his still functioning right hand, he also discovered that he couldn’t talk properly. His speech was badly slurred and he was struggling big time to get his message of despair across on the phone.
He really was in dire need of immediate help if he wasn’t to suffer life-changing damage to his body or, even worse still, losing his life entirely.
Obviously time is of the utmost importance and the speed with which a stroke sufferer can get proper professional medical care is absolutely crucial to their chances of recovery.
The road that night was particularly deserted but, as fate had it, Richard saw a car coming towards him and thankfully he had the presence of mind to use his right hand to flash the lights frantically in the hope that the driver would stop and help him.
Thank God, the car stopped and the good Samaritan who was driving soon realised what was happening and quickly summoned the ambulance service, who promptly transported Richard to the emergency department in Sligo Hospital.
Yet again, not enough thanks can go to the kind gentleman who took the time to stop and to the doctors, nurses and staff for making sure Richard was seen to in the nick of time which, thankfully, has seen this extremely amicable young man make a full recovery.
Incredibly, he was back playing for the Reds again six weeks after his near-death experience — an astonishing comeback by an outstanding individual.
Just so you know, Brushy, you have most certainly gone a long way towards restoring my faith back into many footballers. A brilliant success story about an even more brilliant young man.
It's been inevitable for some time and now it’s finally official that primary school kids will no longer be allowed to head a football during practice.
The decision of the Football Associations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and England to back the ban comes following the scientific conclusion that people who head a football are three to five times more likely to develop a neurodegenerative disease than those who don’t.
There is no doubt that our sport now faces growing questions and, if the experts say so, who am I with my level of education to either challenge or argue?
Despite my consternation and my somewhat old fashioned ideals and core values with regards to the game, it now seems that the powers that be together with health and safety will once again win the day — so prepare yourself for yet further significant changes to the rules.
There is no doubt that expert medical advice must be adhered to in all walks of life but it still begs the question of where exactly we draw the line and when do we recognise that most sports will always carry a certain degree of risk?
Surely after digesting the medical advice it’s then up to the individual themselves — be that the parent, custodian or otherwise — to then have the freedom of choice to choose whether to compete or not.
Are we soon to see young boxers being prohibited from throwing punches to their opponent’s head?
Will the jumps be removed from horse racing and show jumping?
Is mountain climbing set to be restricted to those frames we see in theme parks, and are we in danger of fishing being confined to supervised swimming pools?
Surely in this particular case, all parents should be allowed to make the final choice as to exactly what, if any, sport or recreation they want their kids to be involved in.
Personally, and despite these latest medical revelations, I know I for one won’t be telling my children or indeed my grandchildren not to be heading a football and it’s my firm opinion that all responsible custodians should be allowed to make the same choice.
I spent some time this week with Ballinamallard United manager and Mr Football himself, Harry McConkey.
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Harry (right) for many years and the man never changes — he quite simply eats, sleeps and lives football, practically 24/7.
It’s virtually impossible not to become totally engaged when he starts to chronicle his latest exploits and that’s exactly how I came to learn about the forthcoming ‘Having a Ball’ charity gala in the Manor House Hotel on Saturday, March 28.
The main objective is to raise funds for Harry’s former special needs school Willowbridge in Enniskillen, where he was a teacher, as well as for the Fermanagh Support Stroke Group and his beloved Mallards.
I’m delighted to report that all 300-plus tickets were sold out in one week and that the ballroom will be full of a great cross section of the community, with many special guests in attendance — none more so than the infamous living legend Jackie Fullerton, who will compere the entire evening’s proceedings.
Many of Harry’s football friends from his own playing career will be there, so there’s no doubt it promises to be a fantastic night and all for a great cause.
Harry, I take my hat off to you sir, you are an outstanding individual who never ceases to promote football, sport and indeed charity in every positive and proper manner possible.