Munster’s Damien Varley speaks about his forced retirement

Screen shot 2015-02-18 at 10.29.44MUNSTER and Ireland hooker Damien Varley announced his retirement from the game yesterday. In doing so, he sat down with the media to explain the decision and his plans for the future.

“The ongoing issue with my foot post-surgery became a real issue. When I met my specalist for a consultation in January the advice was that I wouldn’t be able to sustain pressure particularly in my position. So I now need to rehab almost for a quality of life, being able to walk and run in the future. When it is put to you like that is a bit upsetting but it probably makes it easier when you are directed and advised that you should retire”

The hooker admits, it was a tough concept to process, but ever the pro, Varley attended a Munster fans night just hours after he knew it was all over.

“I was gutted. It was the day before the Saracens game and I was hooking up with the team to do Q & A that evening and it took me a few hours to get my head around it and dry off the tears. I obviously didn’t tell anyone at the time and you have to give it time to sink in. I am pretty gutted and still trying to get my head around it. I am not the first to retire and I am certainly not going to be the last but it takes a bit of time to get your head around it.

The injury, which he picked up in July 2013, trouble the former Garryowen star from the off, but he knew the end was near when the pain would not subside.

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“The initial injury was July 2013, in pre-season training before last season. I struggled with it throughout last season, we tried to manage with it as best we could be ultimately it was destructive as well and led to my attempt to comeback in October and ultimately failing that. The rehab was going on so long. You obviously become a bit fearful when you are still in an awful lot of pain and struggling to walk. As the rehab continued and the Christmas period when I knew that I shouldn’t be feeling like this, this long after surgery. I was getting worried and then it was put very bluntly to me when I met him in January.”

Here is the medical bit. . .
“The problem is, there is a material called fascia in the heel. It just kept ripping from my heel so the surgery was to cut it off completely. I got two-thirds of it removed and the remaining third is still causing issues. We investigated when cutting the rest of it off would be something we could do but it would have led to a few more problems down the line so it puts us in this position”

The first question to any sporting star on their retirement, is what’s next? Varley intends on taking a break, all be it, a small one.
“I am going to step away from the game. I want to give myself a few months and assess everything and when I see what is the next chapter. It is tough enough when one is closing so the next few months, seeing out the rest of the season with the lads will be tough enough so I won’t jump into any big decisions at the minute”

In a career which saw several highs with Garryowen, Wasps and Munster, what did Varley see as the highlight of it all?

“There are so many. Winning the Magners League was a big thing for us and playing Australia too. Being part of the collective group and not just from a rugby point of view, the players, coaches, people I have worked with so, yeah, it’s definitely the people rather than any victory. We have had some bad losses where we have come together . It’s very hard to pinpoint one thing. It has certainly been an emotional journey and one I will look back on fondness”

The hooker reminded the media about his pathway into the pro game and encouraged younger players to look abroad too, if everything isn’t going to plan at home.

“I played club rugby with Garryowen up to 2006 when we won three cups. My first cap with Munster came that year but I couldn’t get a contract. Mr Kidney refused to give me one at the time and tried for one elsewhere until in ’08 I went on trial to London Wasps and was offered a contract. I met Axel coming back that Christmas and was offered and I signed for the following season.

“Doing it that way gives you a different perspective, of how hard it is to get in. Looking back now, it also gives you an appreciation of the outside world away from rugby, from spending time in college, struggling and trying to get a contract. Get an element of success and it’s taken away, you appreciare what you had and the realities of the real world. When I got success with Munster, i appreciated the help of the guys who had b rought met to Wasps … I’ve always said, when you’re not being presented with a contract straightaway as a young guy, you need to look abroad and develop there and come back.