Donnacha Ryan Opens Up On How He Came Very Close To Retiring

“We’d kind of agreed after that final I would finish up,”

Donnacha Ryan has opened up for the first time about the devastating foot injury that robbed him of a large chunk of his career, and almost forced him to retire from the game completely.

In the first part of an in-depth interview with Sky Sports, Ryan explains exactly what happened him, and just how bad the injury was (he broke a sesamoid bone in his foot back in March 2014).

“I was going to finish up in the end. It was as close as it gets to retirement,” Ryan said 

“I was struggling to walk, and if you can’t walk, you’re really not very much good as an athlete.

“There’s two balls of your feet and I had done the more complicated one. I had three pains out of it.”

“An aching pain, a sharp pain when I put pressure on it and then I had a burning pain from the nerve near the bone. That was the last thing to go because I had forgotten what it was like not to have pain in my foot.”

After four weeks, unbeknownst to Ryan at the time, he had missed a vital cut off point at which the bone could be put back in place with a screw. Necrosis had set in; the bone had now begun to decay.

“It was very difficult mentally,” he says.

“You’re almost in a sort of self-destructive mode, because you’re in so much pain, you don’t really care. I was in a dark place.

“I had more than one medic or doctor look at me and say: ‘Enjoy retirement’. And that was hard to take as well. But they are just medical opinions.”

Seven months after he originally got injured, Ryan went for surgery in London to try and correct the problem. Surgeons had to slice open the middle of his foot and remove the lateran sesamoid bone.

Straight away the aching pain was gone, and after months of rehab the “thumbtack sharp pain” was gone too. But a burning nerve sensation remained. He did however, eventually return in March 2015. But he still wasn’t right.

“I was still on the fence then – actually, I was still going to leave the sport at that time,” he admits.

“I was struggling badly and I’d developed a limp to protect it. My back and hip were in trouble because I was compensating.

“Playing for Munster is like a drug and when you’re caught up in an environment like that, you watch from the sideline and think: ‘God I wish that was me at the end of that ball’.

“But my nervous system was reacting with pain. I used to get massive anxiety because of it the whole time. I wasn’t sleeping.

“They had to give me some medication to help with that. My brain was firing with what wasn’t happening. We had to change the patterns.

“I was on that course for a long time. It wasn’t any performance enhancement things, that’s for sure. I was literally trying to relax the nerves.

“It was getting better and I could see progress. The only thing you ever want to see in that situation is progress. If you’re not seeing that, it’s a really tough place.

“My goal was I just wanted to play one more game after I had it done.”

Heading into the 2015 PRO12 final against Glasgow, Ryan had planned on that game being his last.

“We’d kind of agreed after that final I would finish up,” he says.

“But I went away on holidays to Jamaica – I was still taking my medication – and I started being able to relax and properly switch off.

“Leading into the final, it was feeling better but it was all about seeing what it was like after rest. Because it was taking me a lot of work to keep on top of it and keep the pain down.

“Even when I was resting before, it wasn’t doing anything for it, it was still sore.

“Whereas when I had an opportunity to rest it over three weeks, rest really helped where previous times it didn’t, if that makes any sense at all. It was very strange but the process of my nerve system had changed.”

“The most interesting thing I learned from that whole experience was that doctors and physios don’t know it all. I would encourage every player, even though you don’t have a medical degree, to question an initial prognosis.

“It was the lowest and most frustrating period of my career. I’m so grateful to have had my family and girlfriend Jen pull me out of it.”

You can read the full interview with Donnacha Ryan here.