Huge scare for Comets? player
By MITCHELL DALE
AS Coffs Harbour Comets' fullback Darren McCarthy kicked back on his beige sofa on Tuesday, he knew he was lucky not to be confined to a chair for the rest of his life.
But, at the same time, McCarthy couldn't help but shake his head at his bad luck.
McCarthy, 21, injured his neck in a tackle during the Comets' Group 2 round one loss to Port Macquarie on Sunday.
He was taken to hospital immediately where the original diagnosis was that he had a generic spinal deformity and could never play football again.
McCarthy was told he risked being permanently paralysed if he injured his neck again.
"I got a pretty big scare on Sunday," he admitted.
"I've never thought about my neck like that before, but this was a big wake-up call.
"But I wasn't impressed when they told me I wouldn't play again, I've had such a good time at the Comets."
After seeking a second opinion, he was told mid-week that the door may not be completely shut on a return.
"I've been told that, if I work on the muscles around my neck, then it is not definitely over," he said.
"I have to take this year off, but I might be able to come back next year.
"I'd rate myself about a 50 per cent chance.
"It would be great to play again, but I will only come back if there is no risk.
"It's only football and I don't want to compromise my future.
"I don't want to risk being a paraplegic."
The incident itself was innocent enough.
McCarthy says he has been tackled a similar way hundreds of times before.
"There was nothing malicious about the tackle, I just tried to make myself comfortable in the tackle and two of them ended up on top of me," he says.
"Straight away I knew I was in trouble.
"There was a crunching noise and a sharp pain.
"I just lay there, people were telling me to get up, but I didn't want to move because I have heard what can happen if you do.
"I lay there for about 15 minutes, it was pretty scary, especially seeing the looks on everyone's faces.
"But I was lucky because everyone around me was so professional."
McCarthy, who is known as 'Sujohn' to the Comets because they reckon he looks Ethiopian, said his long, thin frame was partly to blame for the injury.
"A lot of it had to do with my body form, because I don't have a neck like a bulldog," he said.
The potentially career-ending injury couldn't have come at a worse time for McCarthy, who was set to finally put a mortgage on the first grade number one jersey after four years at the club.
"I really wanted to stake a claim for the first grade fullback spot this year," he said.
"Hopefully I will be able to come back, but we'll have to wait and see.
"I would be pretty disappointed if I couldn't play again, our whole family is into rugby league and my two cousins (Ben and Adam McCarthy) play for Orara Valley.
"I've never played against them before and I was looking forward to it because there is always a bit of talk at family barbecues."
But he also realises it is more important to just be able to walk around at those family barbecues.