Former Meath captain Shane McAnarney has revealed how a routine GAA/GPA cardiac screening may have saved his life.
Speaking in the Irish Independent, he said that an ‘echo’ heart scan earlier this year had detected two blocked arteries and even revealed he had suffered a “slight heart attack”, which meant he needed double bypass surgery .
"The doctor came into the room and told me there was something not working the way it should be working.
"'Effectively, your heart is pumping under so much pressure it could stop,' he told me. That was a serious thing to hear,” he said.
"I was lucky. I remember chasing lads at training up the Hill of Tara not so long ago, before all this happened, really pushing it trying to catch them.
"Anything could have happened. I could have keeled over. My heart could have stopped working there and then.
"The one (artery) that was blocked completely, there is damaged tissue around the wall so I did have a slight heart attack at some stage that I didn't realise or know about.
The Clan na nGael man, who turned 33 last month, paid tribute to the Gaelic Players Association, who met the cost of his €30,000 surgery, and urged players to take advantage of screening programmes.
"The GPA are paying for this, organising it, all the lads have to do is turn up,” he said.
“It's not a big ask, you're not being asked to fork out €300 or €400, but you wouldn't believe the amount of players who didn't turn up for their screening."
"I just thought it was a mistake. How could a fit 32-year-old be told something like this?" - Shane McAnarney
McAnarney was initially gripped by disbelief that an elite athlete could have such a condition.
"The doctor didn't know for sure and I was thinking, 'there could be something wrong with the machine or maybe he is just being cautious'.
“I was stunned. I didn't want to believe it. I had no symptoms. It wasn't like I scoffed down Chinese or fast food. All I wanted to do was go training that night.
The former Royals defender said he felt fortunate to be alive, despite the end of his playing career, and suggested that the premature death of former Tyrone captain Cormac McAnallen, 24, in 2004 had “opened the eyes of the GAA” to the danger of undetected heart conditions.
"When the surgeon told me that, back in May, I didn't want to hear him because, as far as I was concerned, he had turned my life upside down by telling me I couldn't play football," said McAnarney.
"But I know I'm lucky and blessed to get this chance, a second chance to live a full life.
"He (McAnallen) came into my head and has been a reference point in a lot of conversations I've had about this since. He was obviously a high-profile player, but there are young club players that it has happened to too. Cormac's unfortunate and tragic death has opened the eyes of the GAA.”