INJURIES of any kind are always intensely irritating for footballers. But the most irritating of all are those which are incurred away from the field of play.
If you break a bone or tear ligaments in the line of duty, you can at least accept it as an occupational hazard. If you are ruled out for months for another reason altogether, the enforced inactivity can be doubly frustrating.
It was the latter fate which befell Gary Deegan, and which has kept the midfielder out of the Hibernian first team for the past two months. On a night out with team-mates, he suffered an alleged assault, and was left with a broken jaw.
And he was not just kept out of footballing action either. The nature of the injury meant that Deegan spent weeks virtually immobilised in order to help speed his recovery.
Never mind no football. It was also no gym work, no cycling, no swimming. No driving. No taking the dogs for a walk. Nothing that might relieve the tedium of a liquid diet and daytime television.
But now, two operations and some nine weeks later, he is ready to return. Perhaps not to Hibs’ starting line-up for today’s home game against Aberdeen –manager Pat Fenlon was due to make a call on that one yesterday – but at least in the squad.
“When you’re not eating and not doing things, your whole system sort of shuts down,” Deegan explained. “You feel down. You don’t want to do anything, just sit around.
“My mouth was shut, so everything was liquidised – which doesn’t taste particularly nice.
“Even dealing with that was infuriating, that I had to do that just to eat.
“I just ate soup for four or five weeks. I lost quite a bit, a stone, which I’m just starting to put back on now.
“I’ve dealt with injuries before, injuries that have kept me out for a long time. But I have to say that this has been the most frustrating, because it’s not football- related – it’s because of a stupid incident.”
Provided doctors’ orders are observed, physical recovery from injuries like Deegan’s is more or less automatic. But dealing with the mental side can be tougher. Fenlon said earlier this week that he always had faith in his fellow-Irishman’s mental toughness, but Deegan himself said he owed a lot to the manager, his team-mates, and his own family.
“I’ve dealt with long periods out spending time on your own, so I knew what to expect in a way. But the gaffer has been really good, along with my missus and family around me.
“To be honest, the thing that got me round was my mother sent me a little ‘Don’t quit’ card. It’s just a little poem that explains why you should never give up.
“That has stuck with me and I have it in my car now. It’s something I’ll always have, something to say I’ve come this far, I’m not going to quit now.
“She sent it to me when all this crap was going on. I speak to me ma all the time and a mother can always tell when her son’s not right, so she sent me this to cheer me up.
“When it happened, all the boys were in touch, even just sending me text messages. Eoin Doyle has been driving me to the hospital, back and forward, because I’ve not been able to drive. Whenever I’ve asked him to be there, he’s been there.
“The manager has been great. He dropped round a few times to see me because I wouldn’t even answer my phone to him. I didn’t want any contact early on.
“But he’s been really good, really encouraging. Told me not to rush and get everything done.”
By his own admission, Deegan has tried the patience of his wife over the past couple of months. She did all the cooking for him, and he could perhaps have been more appreciative of her broccoli soup.
“She’s glad to see me back, definitely. I can be very demanding and bossy when I’m at home. I would say it’s taken a toll on her.
“It was all homemade soup – I demanded that it wasn’t out of a tin or a box. My favourite was butternut squash, the worst was something with broccoli in it – that’s just stupid. If I never see another bowl of broccoli soup, it’ll be too soon.”
Having lost a stone, much of it muscle, Deegan knows he may not immediately fit into the role of midfield enforcer he filled so well in the first two months of the season. “It’s been over nine weeks now. Anyone out for that time is going to take a bit of time to get back into the rhythm of things, never mind just getting match fit. You shouldn’t expect too much, because I need to play my way back into the team, then take my chance if selected.”
Hibs have won games in Deegan’s absence, and also without captain James McPake, who should be back in defence today. But they are a lot stronger with both, and could do with a lift after taking just three points from their last 12 in the SPL.
They have still lost just once at home, but this afternoon’s opponents Mother-well are a lot stronger away from Fir Park. If a draw is the outcome, Hibs will probably not complain too much, especially if Deegan and McPake both get back into action.