The saying in football never to come back to your old club isn’t goalkeeper Richard Brush considering joining Sligo Rovers for the fourth time earlier this month.
The Birmingham-born goalkeeper joined Bit O ‘Red after first moving to the Showgrounds in 2006 from Nuneaton Borough.
“Football brought me, love kept me here,” he told Darren Frehill for RTÉ’s Sunday Sport after eight years of marriage to his wife Stacey.
After four years and successes in the FAI Cup and the Coupe de la Ligue, Brush leaves for Shamrock Rovers.
Commuting from his base in the North West, he clinched a league title and was part of Ireland’s first team to reach a group stage in European competition with two Europa League group stage appearances.
He also conceded Harry Kane’s first goal for Spurs when he found the net after coming off the bench in a 4-0 win for the Premier League side at Tallaght.
A first return to Sligo added another league title to the medal collection, but by the end of the year he was back with the Hoops. A third stint at the Showgrounds ended after two seasons in 2015, subsequently for Finn Harps, Ballinamallard United and Cliftonville for three years. With a brief retreat thrown into the mix.
Happy where he was, Brush was pleasantly surprised when Sligo probed him again. With two young goalies on their books – top pick Ed McGinty and Luke McNicholas on loan at Harps – experience was required and the call was answered. Not that he is resting on his laurels and that he is happy to accept a replacement role.
I don’t sign to sit on the bench and make up the numbers
“Ed has turned out to be one of the best goalies in the league. With his skills and attitude, he looks great at such a young age.
“It’s good for me to think I can push him. I was number one in Cliftonville, so I’m not signing to sit on the bench and catch up with the numbers.”
He considers himself lucky that working in a care facility has meant “business as usual” in terms of employment, although the day service in which he helped children with intellectual disabilities was closed during Covid.
Not that the lockdown isn’t wreaking havoc.
“I don’t mean to sound negative, but at the moment there doesn’t seem to be that kind of light we can look towards.”
After training for the week, a Sligo Rovers fan approached him and welcomed him back to the Showgrounds. Instinctively, Brush reached out in recognition.
“Then I thought: what are you doing?
Brush no longer takes anything for granted in life, remembering the “spooky” night of November 2018 that gave her and her family’s life a different perspective.
In front of Sky Sports cameras on a Monday night, Cliftonville recorded a 3-1 victory over Ards in the NIFL Premiership.
Brush, two weeks before his 34th birthday, was feeling good.
His mother texted after watching the game on TV and he sat in the car, calling Stacey to let her know he would be back sometime after midnight.
Shortly before arriving at the house in Sligo, as he turned to Manorhamilton, a “choking” swept over him. The gunman blamed it on fatigue, rolled down the window and went to drink from his water bottle. The liquid was running down his chin.
“It was very strange, so I decided to stop,” but was physically unable to push his left foot on the clutch as he went to change gears. Then he tried to put the car in neutral, but could not raise his left arm.
Distressed but not overwhelmed, he shuddered to stop and telephoned his wife. It was a little before midnight and he rang, so he tried his boss Paul, who lived in Manorhamilton. Surprised by the late call, he listened to Brush explain that he didn’t know what was wrong, but felt unwell, and pulled up on the road. Help would arrive in 15 minutes.
I was on the phone for 10 minutes, but it felt like a lifetime
In the meantime, he looked at himself in the mirror and saw that his face, on his left side, “had completely fallen”.
“I knew then that I had a stroke.”
He dialed 999, but at this point the speech was starting to blur and communication was difficult on both sides. “I don’t know how many they got. I was on them for 10 minutes, but it was like a lifetime.”
With the mobile in his right hand, he used his left to flash the lights to signal an oncoming car.
“I was thinking, please stop.
Now the footballer was slumped in his seat. The arrested driver made a quick assessment and grabbing the phone, updated paramedics on the other end of the phone. The ambulance and its boss quickly arrived at the scene.
Rushed to hospital, he remembers a light moment in the midst of panic when the paramedic answered his wife’s call.
“I remember his tone, who is it?”. At the time, he burst into tears, unaware of the gravity of his situation.
Tests were done at Sligo University Hospital, but there was no movement on his left side. It was determined that there were no burst blood vessels, but there was a clot on the brain, preventing blood flow.
Doctors explained that a course of action would be a drug that had to be taken within four hours to be effective. It was always a risk; there was a 3% probability of an “adverse effect”.
“My wife looked at it and wasn’t sure if she could take the risk. It was very well explained and we had time to talk about it. We did.”
Soon the doctors began to look for signs of movement. Nothing after 15 minutes, same scenario after half an hour.
It was scary, but luckily I made a full recovery
Then he felt something. It was not controlled, but it was nonetheless movement.
“When my wife came back into the room, I waved her like crazy.”
The next day he was on the move.
Brush spent five days in the hospital, and after two weeks grazing his leg off the floor, he made a full recovery. So much so that he returned to the field after six weeks. A 5-1 beating at the hands of the Crusaders on Boxing Day doing nothing to curb his party spirit.
Tests revealed two clots on the brain. “It was scary, but luckily I made a full recovery.”
He’s still thinking about how his story unfolded. The “what ifs” are endless, but the driver he pointed out was the difference he was feeling.
“Even though Paul arrived five minutes later, having someone there as soon as possible was huge for me.”
The driver phoned the hospital the next morning to find out what had happened, deflecting the praise, insisting it was Brush who had done most of the work.
Now he just hopes to get back to football, but in front of loyal Sligo supporters.
Last year they raised their eyebrows with a push that secured European football, but Brush would just love the opportunity to feel the Showgrounds roar again.
“It will be great to welcome the fans back when it is safe. It will be huge for the club.”