Back to the wall
AS another summer trundled by against a backdrop of Mayo wins, the odd club game, and a whole host of headlines, nobody outside of Crossmolina really noticed anything different about Michael Moyles.
An ever-present in his club’s colours for ten years – and a member of the Mayo panel on and off since 1999 – the grapevine had it that Moyles was injured. His back – or was it his shoulder? – was rumoured to be bothering him. His name was missing from a few Crossmolina team-sheets but there weren’t many games anyway so nobody really took any notice.
Once things settled down after the All-Ireland Final, he and the Deel Rovers would reappear. Wouldn’t they?
It turns out that Michael Moyles was battling to save his football career since late last year. His back was bothering him as another long season tapered to a close. A heavy collision with Trevor Mortimer in the county final left him aching for days, and another bang against Salthill-Knocknacarra in the Connacht club final aggravated his back pain again. There was nothing for it but to go for an MRI scan.
“It was bothering me so I went for an MRI which showed that there was a bone in my back hitting against my spine,” he recalled last week. “The scan was seen by doctors and specialists in Dublin, the UK and the US for a second opinion but the answers were the same. When did I get the final word? January, February and again last month.
“Getting that news was obviously upsetting but you just have to remember that there’s more to life. If I’d found out later and kept playing on there was a chance I’d end up in a wheelchair. As far as the doctors and specialists are concerned, if I was in contact there’s a chance that a bone in my back could sever my spinal cord.”
The medical specialists also agree that the current state of Michael Moyles’ back is the result of years and years of knocks, bangs, bruises and injuries. The man himself is in full agreement.
“Looking back on it two or three belts stand out,” he says. “A couple of years ago I was stretchered off after getting a bang between the shoulder blades against Knockmore. Then there was a car crash I was involved in on the way to Mayo training a couple of years ago, and I also got a bad knock in last year’s county final. But it’s a result of years of knocks really.”
BUT the long relationship between the footballer and his club has continued nonetheless. That is the way Crossmolina GAA Club works; through good times and bad, in sickness and in health, the two remain linked.
When Michael Moyles was wondering back in February if he would ever play football again, Thomas Jordan, Crossmolina’s astute manager, made a suggestion. Why didn’t Moyles train the team one night a week? He had the practical and theoretical experience from IT Sligo and years of taking part in sessions, so why not put it to good use?
“We alternate the sessions between myself and Jarlath [Cunningham],” he explains. “Jarlath does a lot of the core strength work and I do most of the football stuff. The most important thing is that it’s different training sessions very night.
“It’s a bit strange,” he adds. “I used to be the one traipsing in late to training, getting told off. Now I’m the one doing the roaring and shouting if anyone is not there in time.
“I also see things from the perspective of the management now; they have to have great patience, you have all these different players with different ideas and they all put in a massive commitment.”
The team’s performance against Castlebar Mitchels has got the county talking. How did a team with so much mileage produce such a dynamic, slick performance? Again.
“I think it just happened that there’s a very talented bunch of footballers there,” offers Moyles. “There’s no doubt either that the fact that so many people have been writing us off for the last couple of years is a huge motivating factor. We want to prove that we’re not gone, we’re not finished, we still want it.
The next game is always the big one.”
IF that next game ever comes again for Michael Moyles now looks extremely unlikely. That thought has been occupying his every waking moment now for almost a year and he admits candidly that it has hit him hard.
“I found that the All-Ireland Final really brought it home to me. I was walking down to Croke Park with a friend of mine and the Mayo team bus passed us. You have to think. Do I look up? Do I just keep my head down and keep going?
“In 2004 I went to the States for the summer and missed the final and now missed out on this one with injury so it was very disappointing. I knew that if I had put off going for the MRI scan earlier this year then maybe I’d still be involved with Mayo but…”
Moyles is working as a substitute teacher in Ballisodare these days and keeping a diary of his daily pain levels in his back to send to doctors in the US. He does a little swimming and light jogging but anything more strenuous leaves him stiff and sore.
He knows what he wants in the future but is honest enough to concede that only a dramatic reversal of fortune will grant a reprieve.
“There’s nothing more I want to do than play football. I would go to America or Australia in a heartbeat for an operation if it meant that I could play football again. But the specialist told me that, as things stand, if I got a belt I could be left paralysed. That’s the bottom line.”