By Damian Dolan
When London’s hurlers open their national league campaign in Mullingar on Saturday against Westmeath, they’ll take to the pitch for the first time in six years without their captain, Brian Regan.
Regan will be there in spirit, though, pucking every ball and willing his teammates on to a victory.
That he won’t be togging out on Sunday, is because he’s still recovering from the effects of his heart stopping on the pitch at McGovern Park. He needed to be given CPR.
It happened during Kilburn Gaels’ senior hurling championship fixture with Robert Emmetts on 29 September.
Only the quick-thinking and actions of Kilburn teammate Stephen Lambert, and several nurses, who were watching the game in the stand, kept him alive until ambulances arrived on the scene.
“I was blessed; I was so lucky that they were all there and knew what to do,” Regan told the Irish World.
“They didn’t panic; when something like that happens, it’s easy to freeze, but luckily Stephen had done [first aid] training and obviously the nurses deal with that sort of thing every day.
“I’m so lucky that they were there. I’ve played plenty of matches over here, Sunday mornings in Greenford, and there might be two men and a dog there.”
Regan spent the next three weeks in Harefield Hospital undergoing tests before the cause of the problem was diagnosed as Dilated cardiomyopathy.
It’s a condition where the heart muscle becomes stretched and thin, and is unable to pump blood around the body efficiently.
On medication for the foreseeable future, Regan was also fitted with implantable cardioverter defibrillator, positioned over his rib cage and connected to his heart. It’s designed to automatically deliver a shock, should his heart ever stop again.
“It’s my own personal defibrillator,” he says.
A stalwart of the London team, Regan made his London debut in 2013 and capped his debut year with victory over Meath in the Division 2B final. Last year, he captained London to a Christy Ring Cup final.
The centre back also won London senior county titles with Kilburn in 2017 and 2014, and helped the club reach an All-Ireland club intermediate final in 2015.
He was selected on to the Galway senior hurling panel in 2012 on the back of helping Gort win a Galway senior title the previous year.
But at the age of 30, he’s now resigned to the likelihood that his hurling days are behind him. He also knows, however, that he’s very lucky just to be alive.
“It’s only now when the lads are back training and you’re sitting in the house every evening and you’re thinking ‘I should be training’ that it kicks in,” he said.
“I’ll be there supporting them [London] and hopefully they can have a good year. And maybe get back to Croke Park for a Christy Ring final and hopefully win it. I’m sure that’s the aim.
“Obviously you’d miss it when you’ve been doing it all your life, but you have to do what they [the doctors] say.
“I can’t really complain; I’m very lucky that it turned out the way it did. It’s only a small price. It was nearly time to be hanging up the boots anyway! Maybe it was a sign.”
When reflecting upon the events of 29 September, Regan can recall going through the team’s warm up and the first 20 minutes of the game, but little after that.
“I remember waking up on the pitch and everyone was around in a circle and I remember saying ‘what’s going on here?’,” he said.
“Then I realised it was me on the stretcher and I was like ‘oh s**t, it’s me that’s down’.
“I remember seeing Tom Bergin, and the nurses and Stephen Lambert were in front of me asking if I knew my name and where I was.”
Regan can also remember the ambulance journey to Harefield Hospital, with Henry Vaughan, and the sirens going.
He said: “I came around fairly quickly and I remember saying to the ambulance crew that there was no need to be going too fast because I was okay.”
A very lucky escape, but not one that Regan is going to let define his life going forwards. He also had “no qualms” about going back to McGovern Park to watch county champions St Gabriel’s take on Mayo’s Tooreen in the Connacht Club IHC semi-final.
“I didn’t think ‘I don’t want to go there again” because of bad memories,” he said.
“I try not to think too much about it and try and put it to the back of my mind. You have to get on with it.”
A project manager in construction, Regan was back at work five weeks after his collapse, albeit on a very “gradual” basis. His role requires no physical work.
At the end of this month he’s due back at Harefield Hospital to meet with his consultant. It’s then he’ll learn the full extent of the physical activity he can undertake, and how much.
Exercise at the moment is limited to walking. Contact sports are definitely a no-no.
“The nurses and doctors didn’t really know what hurling was, but they said that if you were playing rugby, you wouldn’t be able to play rugby again,” he said.
“I assume the hurling will be similar. There’s a danger of getting a belt of a hurley with the defibrillator, and it just wouldn’t be worth it.”
He hopes he’ll be able to go to the gym and go for a run, to help keep him “sane” and get him “off the couch”.
“There’s only so much rubbish TV you can watch,” he says.
Whatever the outcome, Regan knows his playing days are most likely over, but not his involvement with the sport he loves. He hopes to one day be able to “give something back” to Kilburn Gaels.
As for London, after six years he feels it’s right to “take a break” and “keep out of lads’ ways”.
However, he’ll be at McGovern Park to cheer them on and someway “down the road” he may well be back involved in some capacity. His priority for now, though, is his health.
“I’m grand; I feel fine now and hopefully I can stay that way,” says Regan.