Sedgley Park’s Matt Riley will be writing a number of blog posts for as one of the club’s longest serving players discusses his journey in the game. (Photo Credit: Gareth Lyons)

In Matt’s fourth blog for the NCA Rugby website, the Sedgley Park man opens up about his injury problems this season.

The Foot

At the start of 2019, I went on a diet and started running again. I got down to 17 stone and I felt much fitter in games and had so much more energy.

I managed to score 20 tries in the 18/19 season which was rare for a fat centre with not much pace so I felt good going into this campaign. I was keen as mustard to get going under new coach Scott Barrow, but in truth, another term at Sedge for myself was over before it had even begun.

About 20 minutes into the first pre-season session, I made a sharp turn in a game of touch and heard a snap. I thought a blade on my new pair of boots had snapped. I stopped to check, but nothing.

As the session went on my foot began to cramp. By the end of the session, I took my boot and wow – the pain hit! My foot swelled and I instantly knew there was something wrong. I told our physio, Al. I never complain to the physios so he knew there must had been something wrong.

First session with a new coach and I can’t walk – brilliant start.

I went to work the next day, but decided to drive to Whiston Hospital for an X-ray to see if there was any serious damage.

Matt leads out Sedgley Park  in the National Two play-off against Chinnor in 2018. Photo Credit: Simon Cooper

The doctor confirmed my worst fears…A base fracture of the fifth metatarsal.

He explained that due to the position of the fracture, the healing process can be quite complex, and it would take three to six months to heal but I may still have pain in six months time! I was fuming but determined I’d be back by the start of the season although this was only nine weeks away.

I went on holiday to Lanzarote at the end of July, only three weeks after my injury! It was not ideal – my foot was still swollen so I could barely get a shoe on! I had only just taken my moon boot off so walking in flip flops wasn’t ideal and I struggled getting around the hotel.

There was a gym in the hotel which I used to keep ticking over – Upper body weights and some conditioning on the rowing machine to sweat out the pina coladas!

Once I was back from holiday, I got stuck into my rehab and by the end of August, my foot started to feel a little better! My check-up appointment at the hospital went well and the physio said that my foot was looking good to get back to rugby which was a major boost for me.

I had to miss our two friendly games in August, but with the first game of the season against Preston Grasshoppers at the start of September, I put myself up for selection. I started on the bench and played 45 minutes…

My foot felt ok, but in my mind, I was consciously running to try to avoid putting lots of pressure on the outside of my right foot so I didn’t go over on it again. I thought to myself I’ve got away with this injury. I haven’t had to miss a league game and it will only improve from here on in.

The Shoulder

Second game of the season was at home to Wharfedale.

I started the game. We went down to 12 men at one point and it was uncontested scrums, but we had to have eight players in the scrum. So, we put our 9 + 10 into the second row and I went to defend at 9… it was comedy! We managed to keep them out through some heroic defending!

With about 20 minutes remaining, I made a carry from a lineout and hit the deck hard with all my weight landing on my left shoulder. I finished the game and we won a tight contest.

Straight after the game, I let the physios know about my shoulder and they did a couple of tests on it. The dreaded words “you need to nip for an X-Ray” followed. I drove to North Manchester General Hospital where our club doctor is head of A & E…

The good news was nothing was broken, but I had damaged my AC joint and would miss the next five or six games! Gutted was an understatement, but I tried to stay positive and said to myself ‘It will give my foot a chance to properly heal.’

Six weeks passed and my shoulder was pretty much back to normal and I had done plenty of rehab on my foot so I was back playing again.

The Foot…again

We went away to Hull and 10 minutes before the end, I went over on my foot but didn’t think much of it. After the game I took my boots off and it was that same swelled foot and sharp shooting pain that I remember from July.

“F*** sake – not again”

At first, I thought it may just be a bad twinge or at least that’s what I was hoping, but the club doctor confirmed my worst fears after another X-Ray by telling me the original break was never fully healed and I had damaged the same spot.

I managed to get another appointment at Whiston Hospital and he compared my original X-ray and the current one and asked me to come back in three months to see if it had healed. The setback meant I would be out until February. It took a while to sink in…

My first thought as captain was well if I’m not going to be helping on the field for the next three to four months, then I need to start doing more off it.

I organised a pub golf for our Christmas social and started doing more analysis on ourselves and the opposition. I still turned up on Tuesday + Thursdays and sat in on the team meetings, video sessions and tried to give my opinions

On a Saturday, I would get mic’d up and go onto the field with any messages from the sidelines. This all keeps me involved and is slightly satisfying but it doesn’t compare to playing.

To start with, my training went well and I was still eating relatively healthy, but near Christmas time I had hit a wall. Two x 45 min training sessions a week, eating rubbish and having a few beers on a Friday/Saturday night is not ideal when trying to recover from injury.

I used to dread going into training or the club house after training!

“How’s your foot?”

“When are you back playing?”

“Still injured”

It was killing me!

People meant well and it was thoughtful that they were asking.  One old fella even said to me “maybe it’s a sign to retire.” Harmless joke, no doubt, but was it?

I took that to heart. I got home told the wife and said, “How dare he say that to me! I’ll prove him wrong!”

In my head all I could think about was my next appointment with the fracture clinic in the middle of February. My foot was feeling a lot better and in fact, it felt better than when I came back in September.

I popped out of work for my appointment and the three hours in the waiting room did nothing for my anxiety. My gut feeling was it was healed. I walked in to see the doctor after my X-ray and he had my three X-rays upon the screen – July, December and that day.

“As you can see from the three X-rays it is healing but very slowly, but no running or jumping for the next three months and come back for another check-up”

Speechless I was…”Three months? Can I not come back in three or four weeks and see how it’s getting on?”

“No 3 months please!”

I got back in the work van and cried! Not ashamed to say it…I just broke down. I text the leadership group to tell those lads, I tried to ring the wife but couldn’t get my words out. I sat for 10 minutes, cleared my head and headed off back to work.

I worked out three months and it was the middle of May. The season finishes at the end of April so my season was done. Five games I’d played – that’s it!

The Future

There are probably people reading this (that’s if you haven’t nodded off by now) that are saying to themselves “So what, you’ve been injured for nine months once in your career and your 33 – you should feel lucky”

I get it – it’s just because I’ve maybe took for granted for so long that I’ll be playing every week.

I like routine in my life. I like to know what I’m doing and when I’m doing it. I have no guarantee that this is going to heal – what if I need surgery in May or June? Then that’s September or October before I’m fit – I won’t have run for a year!

The last few months for me have been tough. I’m quite a positive and happy person. Always up for a laugh, I like to see the good in most situations, but my head has been all over the shop for last few months and I’ve felt down at times. I just want good news so I can start running!

The season has just been cut short due to coronavirus which has had such a devasting effect on the world. From a rugby point of view though, I was probably the only person made up our season has been cancelled. I have only missed 20 games instead of 25… such a selfish thought!

At the beginning of April, I got asked to set up a training group for current and new players to Sedge and we have been assigned sessions so we can start a two month conditioning phase before having some rest in June in anticipation of starting pre-season in July if restrictions are lifted.

It’s probably been the best thing that could have happened to me.  It’s made me realise I’m a mess, in poor physical condition and need to stop feeling sorry for myself and start exercising.

I’m hoping in the next month I can give myself a base layer of fitness so that if I do, or when I do, get some good news from the fracture clinic on 18th May, then my body is ready.

We have had to set ourselves a target for the summer – I’ll share mine with you… drop 12kg! It’s going to be tough, but I have just shy of five months to do it!

I’ll write the next part of this blog In September. I’ll update you on the progress of my injury, my mental state, how pre-season has gone for the Tigers and whether or not I had the willpower to hit my target ready for the 2020/21 season.

In the meantime, thank you for all taking the time to read my blogs. The reaction has been overwhelming so again, thank you for your comments and messages.