Former Leinster and Ireland flanker Dominic Ryan announced his retirement in the Irish Times today, detailing his harrowing struggles with concussion as the reason behind his decision.
Ryan joined English Premiership side Leicester Tigers in October of 2017 and outlined how his problems began when he attempted to make a tackle on Northampton Saints winger George North and was subsequently knocked out.
“If you get knocked out like that it is a split-second, flick of the lights, on and off. People think to be knocked out you have to be out for 30 seconds. The reality is that it is a flick of the lights, a reset of the brain. I wasn’t aware at the time if I was knocked out, so I played on, injuring my shoulder later on in the second half.”
After thinking little of the collision Ryan did not undergo a Head Injury Assesment and a few weeks later he suffered another setback
“Seven minutes into that game we had a lineout about five or six metres out. I came from the back to hit in on the ball and our hooker Tom Youngs, who was joining the lineout, latched on beside me. He accidentally clipped the side of my head, really lightly, a gentle tap. The next thing I am on the ground, the ball is under my stomach and I’m lying flat on it.
The 28-year old outlined how he began seeing “white patches” and “flashing lights” and after failing a HIA he went to a neurologist who ruled Ryan out for 12 weeks, thus beginning one of the darkest times in his career.
“I went out to watch the lads train and I started to get tunnel vision. My peripheral vision blurred and I got white patches that flashed. It resembled looking at fireworks through binoculars. I could only see what was in front of me. I said to myself, ‘Jesus Christ this is bad’. It brought on the worst migraine.
This was the worst. I couldn’t talk on the phone. I found people talking in my ear irritating. I remember going out for coffee with the lads, it wasn’t even a sunny day and I had my sunglasses on. It sounds stupid but that little bit of extra darkness the sunglasses afforded me helped.
That migraine lasted two weeks. It was intense for about five or six days. Going over ramps in a car I had to ask whoever was driving to slow down, crawl over them, because my brain was properly humming, absolutely pounding.”
Despite his struggles, Ryan was given a game against Castres in the European Cup to demonstrate that he would be a viable contender for selection in some important upcoming Aviva Premiership matches.
Another big collision in the game led to more familiar dizzy spells for Ryan, and after he was replaced midway through the second half the realisation of how serious he was hurt finally became too much for him.
“I started crying uncontrollably, bawling. Gareth said, ‘get inside, don’t let people see you like this’. It dawned on me the reason I didn’t tell was because I knew it was very serious. I was trying to convince myself I was alright. I relished contact all my life. But now I was scared of it. It was making me feel dizzy……I surmised that deep down the reason I didn’t tell them because I suspected I was finished there and then.”
Ryan returned to the neurologist who advised him that the best course of action would be for the Gonzaga product to call time on his rugby career.
“I told (my family) he (the neurologist) said I might have to retire if my symptoms don’t go away. My friends and family were grateful because they didn’t want to be the first ones to bring it up.
I’m relieved; it’s a weight off my shoulders. Pardon the pun but with a bit of distance I can see it was a no-brainer to retire. I can see now I was literally putting myself in harm’s way.”
Ryan concluded his piece by outlining that despite wanting to play more for Ireland, his injuries had not dampened his love for the game.
“If I had played for Ireland 15 or 20 times I think I would be very content with my career. I just wish I had played for Ireland more. I suppose the bottom line is that no one cares who you are after you retire. Rugby gave me character traits that I will carry for life, lifelong friendships and it gives you a financial head start. That is rugby for me in a nutshell.”