For professional athletes, an injury can be debilitating, and if it’s a bad one, or treated poorly, it can often be a career-ender.

Which is why physiotherapists are held in such high regard, both by athletes and non-athletes alike.

Dan Turley is one such renowned physiotherapist, and after a 40-year career, which saw him on the line as physio for Antrim and Armagh, Dan is getting ready to retire.

He spoke with the Andersonstown News about his career in physio, from an unlikely beginning, to working with some of the top athletes in Ireland, and triumph in Croke Park.

First becoming qualified in 1983, Dan said he owes his choice of career path to La Salle Brothers, Brother Aidan and Brother Dominic, plus teacher Paddy McParland, who encouraged Dan in his studies. After his qualification, an encounter with a soldier in Musgrave Park Hospital encouraged him to get involved in treating sporting injuries.

“I left school when I was 16," said Dan. "It was the late 70s and there was a lot of trouble. I didn’t have many prospects, but some La Salle Brothers, Aidan and Dominic, helped me get into college, and teacher Paddy McParland helped me study. If it wasn’t for them I would never have become a physiotherapist. I first went in to help people with broken, or amputated legs. It was around the time of the Hunger Strikes and we were seeing an awful lot of injuries like this.

"There was a man from the military wing at Musgrave Park Hospital called Alan Lyons who was in the army. It was very unusual for me being from West Belfast to be getting along with a member of the military, but he introduced me to treating sports injuries, and he also taught me that everyone should be treated equally.”

Quickly becoming adept at treating sporting injuries, Dan was introduced to Ivor Hamilton, the Superintendant Physiotherapist at Musgrave, who had worked as a physiotherapist for the Queen. Following his decision to concentrate on the discipline of sports injuries, the first club Dan worked with was the running group the Beechmount Harriers.

“I first started off working with the Beechmount Harriers and Jim Kennedy who started the club.  Jim was the very first one to give me my start and I’m very grateful to him for doing that. After working with Beechmount Harriers I started working for St Paul's, with Jim Nelson, Brian Coyle and Joe McCartan. Jim Nelson has unfortunately passed away, but he introduced me to the Antrim football and hurling teams. I then started working for Antrim, and the big highlight was in 1989 at the All-Ireland final.”

Antrim have only been in the All-Ireland Finals for Hurling and Football twice, and Dan was with the Saffrons for the second time in 1989. After this Dan began working for Armagh and worked with the team through their many notable successes.

“When I worked with Armagh we got a lot of Ulster and All-Ireland League titles. The highlight was definitely climbing the Croke Park steps. When I was growing up I was probably the worst footballer in the class, but I ended up the only one who ever climbed Croke Park steps!”

MUSCLE MEMORY: Dan has been treating sports injuries for 40 years

MUSCLE MEMORY: Dan has been treating sports injuries for 40 years

Dan's work also took him across community lines after he was contacted by Victor Taylor, manager of Shankill United F.C. 

 “I was contacted by Victor in 1995, and he was impressed with my work with the Antrim and Armagh teams. He asked me would I become the physio for Shankill United F.C., and I said I would, but was he also aware of where I lived! The next thing, the players were coming over to get all sorts of treatments for their sports injuries. Victor died a few years ago, and there were plans to nominate him for a cross-community award, but unfortunately he passed away before that. I was always very proud to have treated a lot of people from many different backgrounds, even though my work was primarily with Gaelic games.”

Dan said that for many years he was so busy focusing on the health of others that he neglected his own wellbeing.

“For many years I didn’t focus on my own health, and only focused on others, and when mine started to go down a bit, I decided to get involved in park run, and Glen Road Walkers. Someone who really impacted my life was Máirtín Ó Muilleoir. I was doing park runs and I was running and walking, and wasn’t able to run the whole way through it, when all of a sudden I felt Máirtín’s hand at my back and he said ‘Straighten up and keep going!’ and that was the first park run I did without stopping, and I haven’t stopped since!"