GAA Football

Ex-Down star Ronan Murtagh suffers serious facial injuries in last-ever senior game

Tyrone's Ryan McMenamin gets to grips with Down's Ronan Murtagh during the 2008 Ulster replay in Newry. Murtagh suffered serious facial injuries in his last game for Ballyholland seniors

RARELY do sportspeople get to retire on their own terms. In his final senior game for Ballyholland Harps, former Down star Ronan Murtagh suffered horrific facial injuries that left him in hospital for several days.

Expected to be released from Dundonald Hospital yesterday, Murtagh sustained multiple fractures to his cheekbone, jaw and eye socket in an accidental clash with a team-mate in the early stages of their controversial Division One league game with Downpatrick that was marred by brawls.

The fist fighting, caught on a mobile phone camera, started among a few spectators and attracted the vast majority of the players who hurdled a perimeter fence to become involved in the fracas.

Warning: video contains scenes of violence and strong language

The ugly scenes lasted several minutes and spilled into the car-park.

Remarkably, the game resumed which Downpatrick went on to win 1-11 to 1-8.

Overshadowed in the controversy were the serious injuries caused to Murtagh who was brought immediately to hospital.

After 10 minutes Murtagh dipped to collect a loose ball but a team-mate accidentally ploughed into him with his knee.

Murtagh tweeted: ‘Has there ever been a more honest quote than your health is your wealth.’

Among the Twitter well-wishers were former county team-mate Mark Poland and club manager Steven Poacher.

The former Down forward, who featured in the Mourne County’s All-Ireland final loss to Cork in 2010, had escaped serious injury throughout his successful club and county career and in his last-ever game, he ended up in hospital and facing into a series of operations to repair his fractures.

Regarded as one of the best prospects to emerge in the county in the early Noughties, the 36-year-old building contractor earned the tag of Down’s super sub in their dramatic run to the 2010 All-Ireland final.

Murtagh left the Mourne panel after being an unused substitute in their Ulster semi-final defeat to Tyrone at Casement Park before being persuaded to return to the fold three weeks later by boss James McCartan.

He made his mark in Down’s comprehensive All-Ireland Qualifier win over Sligo that summer, hitting 1-5 off the bench and from then on Murtagh was one of McCartan’s most effective impact subs.

He was equally impressive in Down’s Championship wins over Kerry and Kildare - he was always destined to be held in reserve for the All-Ireland final with Cork.

He was introduced in the 56th minute for Paul McComiskey and although he grabbed a crucial point in the closing stages of the decider, Cork held out to win by a point.

A senior inter-county career that stretches back to 2001, Murtagh held on for another two seasons with Down before bowing out.

Since then he has been a mainstay of the Ballyholland seniors and was planning to bow out of the competitive arena unscathed after last weekend’s clash with Downpatrick.

Despite his injuries, Murtagh hopes to be at Pairc Esler on Sunday to watch Ballyholland minors take on Burren in their eagerly awaited county final.

Murtagh coached the club’s current minor squad at U16 level and is the team's main sponsor.

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