David Harte looks set to win his battle to be fit in time for the men’s Hockey World Cup following a dramatic improvement in diagnosis on Thursday morning.
The two-time world goalkeeper of the year had initially been told by Spanish doctors he would likely miss the competition – which starts on November 30 for Ireland – following a freak leg injury.
But a subsequent CT scan downgraded the injury from a fractured fibula to a severe bone bruising and a large contusion but no break.
The Irish skipper will be on the sidelines for between one to three weeks but it is a far cry from the initial diagnosis he was presented with.
“In broken English, the doctors said ‘fracture, broken, minimum 40 days’,” Harte told the Examiner. “My world kind of fell down around me then. I was sitting in a wheelchair in a hallway and just couldn’t fathom it.”
The injury came in the minutes before Ireland were set to take on the Netherlands last Saturday in their Four Nations’ preparation tournament.
The Kinsale man was stepping out of a drill to head off to do the captain’s coin toss when he was struck at full pelt by a ball on one of the few parts of his body that was unpadded, the back of his leg.
“I made a save, then went behind the goal like I have done thousands of times to pick up my water bottle and go.
“When I reached for the water bottle, maybe my right leg was a sticking out a little behind the goal and took the full force of the shot.”
It hit him four inches above his ankle bone and began to swell either side of the strapping of the pads, protruding each side.
“Alexander [Cox] asked was I ok to play or should we get Fitzy ready? Initially, I thought just give me a few minutes but it was instantly painful. I could feel the strap of my pads getting tighter and tighter where the swelling was starting to protrude either side.”
He visited the hospital as a precaution but soon was facing up to the possibility of missing out on one of the biggest stages of his career.
“I did try and think of best case scenarios and hadn’t contemplated a break despite the throbbing. It was just a safe bet to get it checked out given we are so close to the World Cup.
“After waiting and waiting, I eventually got seen and had two x-rays and waited again. When I got into the doctor’s room, he had a specialist with him so I started thinking, I am not sure how good this is.”
The following day was particularly tough, rejoining the squad for their win over England.
“Being there the next day was certainly one of the last places I wanted to be, on the crutches, foot in a plaster, answering the same questions – ‘what’s happened? How long are you out for?’ over and over again.
“But being on the sideline for an important warm-up game against a direct World Cup rival was something I wasn’t going to miss. They also needed me sitting in the dug-out to get the extra field player!”
The one ray of light, though, was the medical team had sent the scans back to Ireland for assessment and they were not convinced of the fracture.
Harte quickly sought out a second opinion with his club, SK Kampong in Utrecht, sourcing a CT scan appointment on Tuesday morning, cutting off the plaster cast and having a look. The doctor was a hockey-fanatic friend of the Kampong physio, based in nearby Bilthoven where Harte previously played with SCHC, something that may well have helped speed up the process.
“I was living with a bit of hope. It has been some of the roughest few days and then [on Thursday], I got the best news ever. The Spanish doctors had read it wrong – no break!”
As such, he will link up with the squad for their practice game on Saturday in Evere against Belgium, the second last tie before Ireland jet out for Bhubaneswar.
The new medical advice is, “worst case scenario”, two to three weeks while Harte is hoping it will be seven days out.
“Every day, I am in at the physio, using the anti-gravity machine we have here at Kampong and my aim is to be involved in some way in Belgium this weekend with the guys.”
And, aside from his injury, Harte says Ireland are in a good place following their five games in seven days in Valencia.
“Getting two results against England, a good performance against the Spanish and going 2-0 up against the number three side in the world, the Netherlands… The Dutch showed there is still a gap to close to the world’s top three but we are going quite well and, from the week, we learned a lot about ourselves.”
Hours prior to Harte’s injury, the Kinsale man had been elected by his fellow players to be part of the International Hockey Federation’s Athlete’s Committee as a liaison member.
The committee consists of current and former players and gives them a voice in the FIH’s decision making processes and the make-up of the international calendar.