Monday, March 5, 2012

John Jackson's take

Written by Stephen Findlater on behalf of the Irish Hockey Association

Retiring never entered John Jackson's (right in pic) mind. A shattering blow could have placed his playing career in tatters, not to mention his dream of playing in the Olympic Games.
But throughout his convalescence, giving up the sport he loves never entered his mind, amazingly recovering not just to play again but also to now make a living in that very arena.
Eighteen months ago, a clash of heads at the pitch opening in Stormont in September 2010 left the Mossley man with a triple cheek-bone fracture and a double skull fracture. Furthermore, he was left with nerve and retinal damage which put his eye in serious jeopardy which left him without vision in his right eye for the best part of a month.
That was a scary experience. Bones heal but the biggest issue was my eye; I couldn t see out of it for three or four weeks and then had double-vision for another three weeks after that, he explained.
Many would have feared this was a potential death knell for a promising international career but Jackson s belief never wavered that he would return to the playing field, no matter the circumstances.
I didn t know if it would ever come back. But I always knew I would play again. There were a couple of weeks where I thought I don t know how I ll play with one eye .
That was what was going through my head. The doctors sorted me out with a couple of metal plates and some plastic inserts and, if anything, the right side of my head is now stronger than my left!
Such adversity often reveals character and Jackson is cherishing the opportunity to have his full range of vision available ahead with few lingering doubts despite the horror injury.
I suppose anybody who has had an injury will be apprehensive going into a challenge but after a while you get on with it.
In time, his vision came back with the defender particularly thankful to the work at Ulster Hospital in Dundonald as well as the support not just of my family but this Irish team. Well-wishers, texts and visitors helped me get back on course .
He is more than back on course, now. A sterling 2011 yielded the offer of a professional playing career in the game with Braxgata in Belgium, an opportunity he relishes, allowing him to play as a full-time athlete for the first time in his career.
And the experience has had a huge knock-on impact on the Irish team when they returned to camp after four months apart.
Life in Belgium is fantastic, something I wish I had of done sooner. Circumstances maybe didn t allow me to do that. I ve taken the opportunity in an Olympic year so I can focus on training and my hockey because that has to take priority.
It s a different culture, a different lifestyle but one that is going to set me up not just next year but in future life as well as a coach, as a hockey enthusiast; it s an experience I ll take with me.
The past few weeks with Ireland have been like a club season rolled into seven weeks. It s a lot more intense obviously because you need to cram in as much as you can into the time you have.
Guys have responded well; gone away with their respective clubs whether it be in Ireland or abroad and come back looking physically sharp. Everyone has improved their strength and conditioning scores from last year and that just shows everyone is pushing hard and realise what their dream is and are going to do everything that it takes to get it.
Pursuing that dream at this week s Olympic qualifiers, Jackson believes the side is in superb shape to break new ground and make it to London 2012.
It s not just been on the radar since the Europeans. For the past three or four years since being involved with Revs [Paul Revington], that s always been our number one target.
There is going to be life after these qualifiers and challenges after that the Champions Challenge and the European A division where we ll see if we can better our last position.
It s a fantastic coup to get the Electric Ireland Road To London qualifiers here and we re looking to qualify for the Olympics but also going so much further. After qualifying for one event, you want to make two, three, four or five events. Excited [about the qualifiers] but also excited about the prospect of the next few years of international hockey not just the next two weeks.
As Revs said at the end of our training session, if the qualifier were to start tomorrow, he thinks we are in a fantastic place and I agree with him. Guys are looking physically sharp even though there might be a few niggles. We re absolutely in the right place and we re in business.