Saturday, February 25, 2006

Drugs in AFL - the quick fix

With the AFL pre-season comp already underway, I thought some of you might enjoy the following article that I wrote when working on The Footy Show Magazine in 1999. It's a three part series about the use of local anaesthetics in AFL to keep players 'on the track' - a ticking legal time bomb that could go off at any time.

I'll kick off with an interview I conducted with Peter Daicos...

The Quick Fix
The Footy Show Magazine, October 1999

Peter Daicos, the 'Macedonian Marvel', performed feats of sheer magic on the footy field during a 250-game career with the Magpies. No argument, he was a dead-set legend. But he pays a huge price - every single day of his life. JOHN COOKE listens.

In 1990, the year before he retired, Peter Daicos kicked 97 goals and went on to play in the Collingwood Premiership side. Indeed, 'Daics' was prepared to put his body on the line for his beloved black and whites. But as each year passes, the cost of that committment continues to mount.

Daicos was introduced to painkillers early in his career and they soon became a part of his playing life. In his second season with Collingwood, the start of the 1980 season, he broke the fourth finger on his left hand and needed painkilling injections to play.

"I ended up playing 13 or 14 games with the finger busted and just kept getting injections. In turn, I snapped a tendon because there was no feeling in the finger," Daicos recounts. "At the end of 1980 they did a tendon graft. Because I had no feeling in the finger, I ended up wrecking it... I've got a scar from the top of my finger right down to the wrist and I've got more scars where they took the tendon out of my forearm to graft into my finger and palm," he explains.

Moving down the body, Daics "did his groins" in a state game in 1981, but went on to play the second half of the season and all of 1982 with the help of painkilling injections. "Not all the time, but whenever it was inflamed..."

"At the start of '83 I had my groins operated on, I had an inductor repaired and a couple of hernias - I played a year and a bit with that. But the worst injury I've ever sustained - and I've had 11 knee ops, my nose pushed all over my face and my teeth knocked out - were the stress fractures in my feet," Daicos recalled.

Those fractures flared in 1987 and the Macedonian Marvel was put on the retired list for the first 13 rounds of the season because he "couldn't walk". "By about round 13, they (the club) said 'we want you to come back and just have a kick-to-kick on Thursday nights' - which I sometimes had to have an injection to get through.

"In the end I played the last nine games of 1987 having injections in both feet before the game and sometimes at half time. That was some of the worst pain I've been through. After the game, when all the painkillers wore off, my feet were just in agony," he says.

"These days, Daicos concedes that if he's on his feet for more than an hour, he's "gone". In fact, he describes the feeling as " being hit over the bottom of the feet with a baseball bat."

Despite the pain, Daicos is keen to defend his former club and the doctors who injected him. While the 37-year-old can't remember what was in every syringe that came his way, he is adamant that players knew exactly what they were getting on the day. He also contests that painkillers would never have been used to numb pain at the risk of a more serious, long-term injury developing - despite the recurrent pain in his feet.

"After I got the first injections in my finger I thought it's still be pretty bad, but it went all dead and I could play football again. Then I thought, 'yeah, no worries, this is pretty easy'. I think your love of the game overshadows thoughts of the future," Daicos reflects.

In fact, he concedes that he rarely thought about how much more damage he might be doing to an injury by playing on it. "All you kept thinking was, 'I'll keep getting through with injections and at the end of the season I've got six months off and I can have a bit of an op and I'll be alright'."

Didn't anyone say anything? Was there not concern?

"People used to ask me, 'how do you think you'll feel when you're 40?' and to be honest, I feel pretty bad - I can't really squat on my knees or bend down much, my fingers are pretty bad, my shoulder's sore where I dislocated it late in my career, my legs do feel pretty bad and I find it hard to be on my feet all the time.

"Even Dad used to say, 'what are you going to be like at 40? - have a rest, stop having the injections'. But all you want to do is play. And I think you feel that if you don't play, then the club will hold it against you in a sense. They'd probably say you're not mentally tough enough.

"The problem was, I always wanted to play. You know, I'd be the one in the end saying 'let's just put a shot in it'."


Andy said...

A sad but typical story I suspect. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

i was at claremont oval a few years back for the john o'connell testimonial day and it was really interesting to see the old warriors struggling to get up the stairs of the members stand. i'm sure that things are only getting worse for top footballers and will continue to do so as they're paid more and therefore expected to be on the field no matter what.