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Rochdale’s Jim McNulty grateful to still be playing ahead of Tottenham FA Cup tie
- Updated: February 19, 2018
JIM MCNULTY thought his football career was over for one awful hour at the age of 24.
A thoughtless and insensitive doctor delivered the devastating but premature diagnosis after McNulty was rushed to hospital with a ruptured kidney after being kicked in the stomach in only his sixth game for Brighton, against Crewe in February 2009.
He eventually lost his right kidney and faced a lengthy battle to return but nine years and over 250 games later, he would like the doctor to know he is alive and kicking and looking forward to facing Tottenham's superstars on Sunday when they visit League One basement club Rochdale in the most romantic of this weekend’s FA Cup fifth-round ties.
When McNulty recalls those dark times, it is easy to understand the excitement that a “journeyman” – his honest description of himself – feels at the prospect of such a glamour game in front of a sell-out 10,000 crowd at Spotland and millions more on television.
“I remember being in A&E within an hour or so of the incident and the doctor there said I probably won’t play football again,” he said.
“It was instant tears. I was there with my father and fiancée, at the time. I remember crying into my dad’s chest.
“But luckily that news was completely reversed within an hour. I obviously wanted to strangle the doctor at that point for making such a call.
It was probably a bit of every-day information for him but, for me, football was my life and he should have stayed quiet until he was better informed. It still winds me up now.
“The FA actually got wind of the news and their doctor spoke with our club doctor. They had spoken to some rugby guys in the southern hemisphere because it’s a more common injury in rugby than it is in football.
“It was nonsense to suggest it would end my career. I had a few operations to try and save the kidney but, ultimately, it was taken out.
“I got back playing again though. It took a long time and there were a lot of knock-on injuries because my posture was greatly affected by having this empty space on my right hand side.
“I had multiple ankle injuries because my pelvic alignment was a nightmare from that point on but 200 or 300 games later I’m fine – and facing Harry Kane, if he plays. It’s brilliant, it’s our day in the sun.”
McNulty, who ‘celebrated’ his 33rd birthday on Tuesday when Rochdale dropped to the bottom of League One following a 3-2 defeat at Bristol Rovers, has had to overcome a few setbacks in his career. He didn’t make the grade as a youngster at Everton, was released by Wrexham, dropped into the Welsh League with Caenarfon and broke his leg during a spell with Macclesfield.
He accepts Rochdale might have had a better chance of causing an upset tomorrow by not relaying their pitch but says the decision was taken to improve their chances of staying up.
“We know playing on a horrible day on the ‘beach-swamp’ of our pitch would not appeal to them too much,” he said. “The new surface will make it more pleasant for Tottenham but it will help us too.
“Without question the ‘beach’ has been detrimental to us this season. In our own division we are a football playing side and we have been hindered by not being able to knock the ball around as much as we would like.
“This is a special fixture but the pitch has been relaid for the rest of the campaign – that’s our bread and butter.”
Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino – who will make wholesale changes after the north London derby win and the draw in Juventus – had urged the FA to intervene over the state of the pitch in comments that irked Rochdale, but on Friday he said: “I want to apologise to the people in Rochdale and the chairman and the people who took my comment the wrong way.
“My comment was about the care, first of all the players of Rochdale, our players and the competition that all of England watches on TV.
“After the replay against Newport, I was with my coaching staff and they showed me a picture from Rochdale’s pitch after the Millwall tie and the pitch was not in a great condition.
“The conditions are fantastic so I congratulate them. The effort was massive and I apologise if someone took my words in the wrong way.”