Four Masters and Donegal footballer Barry Dunnion is a happy young man again. After five injury dogged seasons he has every right to have a smile on his face once more.
He has a flourishing new fitness and training business in Donegal Town, B-Fit. But most of all for the first time in years he is back doing what he likes best, playing football.
The last five years have been nothing short of horrendous for the 29-year-old, who has undergone four major operations, three on the groin and one cruciate operation and has only played a handful of games for either club or county.
Four Masters’ league game against Ardara last Saturday evening was his first competitive game in close on 14 months. Except for two challenge games at the start of the year, Saturday evening’s game was his first since Donegal’s opening Allianz League game of 2011 against Sligo in Ballybofey.
In the previous four years he spent much more time on the sidelines and watching from outside the wire than he did on the playing fields.
It all began in the summer of 2007 for the Donegal Town pocket rocket as Donegal prepared to go toe to toe with Tyrone in the Ulster semi-final in Clones.
“The groin was bothering me right through the National League campaign of 2007, but I had been receiving treatment for it and had played all the games right up to and including the League final. I also had played in the opening game of the championship against Armagh and I had come through fine and was in good shape and looking forward to play Tyrone,” Barry explained.
“But bizarrely just as we raced out on St. Tiernach’s Park, I kicked a ball and just as I did I felt the tear. It was my groin and I was gone and not able to play. I had a pain killing injection at half-time but it was no use, I just couldn’t play.”
Two weeks later Barry was on his way to Germany for ground breaking surgery on his Gilmore’s groin.
Donegal lost to Tyrone, but went through the back-door with wins over Leitrim and Westmeath . And amazingly a mere six weeks after surgery Barry was introduced as a sub in the qualifier against Monaghan, in Omagh.
And as he admits now, he came back too soon.
“I was not ready and returned far too soon and should not have come on against Monaghan. It really set me back and I played no more football again in 2007.”
He also missed Donegal’s 2008 Allianz League before returning for Donegal’s championship opener with Derry in Ballybofey.
But all was not right after that game. Within a matter of weeks he was under the knife again on the same groin, this time in Dublin under top surgeon and former Meath All-Ireland winner Gerry McEntee.
The surgery meant another summer and winter without football for the young man from Barnesmore. As he went through the rehab over the Spring of 2009 he also sat out another Allianz League campaign before he returned fit and well for the Donegal’s championship campaign.
And while Antrim sent John Joe Doherty’s charges through the back door Barry enjoyed his first championship outing in three season. He played in Donegal’s qualifier run and wins over Carlow, Clare, Derry and Galway before losing heavily to Cork in Croke Park in the All- Ireland quarter-final.
But one week later he was back in bother once again when unbelievably he ruptured his posterior cruciate playing for Four Masters.
And so it was another long winter and many lonely hours in the gym and the swimming pool in his bid to regain full-fitness. The early games of the 2010 Allianz League were spent on the sideline before he returned towards the end of the league featuring in Donegal’s two championship games in the summer of 2010.
The rest of 2010 went fine and Barry played the entire season for Four Masters, the first for a number of season. Things were looking up!
2011 began full of promise. Fit and well and rearing to impress new manager Jim McGuinness, Barry, was looking forward to the new season with renewed relish.
The first day out against Sligo went well enough as Neil McGee thundered forward to snatch a late goal to earn Donegal a share of the points.
But his head was spinning again by the following weekend when doctors had diagnosed that the tear he felt the Thursday night after the Sligo game was on his other groin.
“It was really shattering and knocked me back and as I spent the Spring and summer on the sideline. I found it hard to accept and impossible to watch. I felt so bad I could not even bring myself to go to games, even club games. The only Donegal game I went to all of last year was the Kildare game, I simply just found it too difficult to watch games and not being able to be involved.”
Last July, Barry went under Gerry McEntee’s knife once again and last winter was spent once again in rehab and the slow painful road back to fitness.
“It has been a long road back, but I’m getting there and it is matter now of getting a number of games under my belt and improving my match and overall fitness and fingers crossed staying injury free.
“But I’m feeling very good and positive and Adam Speer has been working with me on strength and conditioning for the last eight weeks. I have been travelling over to Letterkenny twice a week to have personal sessions with Adam. He has been brilliant and has played a huge part in my recovery and to where I am today.
“I had lost a stone and a half because I had been advised to do so by the doctors who felt I had bulked up too much over the years and was top heavy and this was the root cause of my injuries. But with the help of Adam I have regained three quarter of a stone and I’m at my right weight now and I have to say I haven’t felt better and fitter in years.
“I’m back training with the county a few weeks now. But Jim (McGuinness) is putting no pressure on me and is giving me the time and space to regain full fitness. I haven’t set myself massive targets or anything like that. I suppose given what I’ve gone through I’m a little more philosophical about things. The goal is to get a few games with the club and hopefully get back into the county team and get a few games. But most of all I want just to get back playing what I enjoy most, playing football.”
It also helps that Barry’s fitness business B-Fit is going well and between football and work commitments he has very few hours in the day he can call his own.
“The business is going very well and I have another man that comes in and does a few hours for me every week to allow me time off to train and play football; overall things are going well for me.”
And if ever a man deserves things to go well, Barry Dunnion does.