Sunday, 7 August 2011

Tragedy At 3.21pm (2010)

On Sunday, May 28, 1978, the most tragic incident in Australian first grade Rugby League history took place, when twenty-one minutes into the first half of the bottom of the table clash, between last placed Newtown and third last Penrith at Henson Park, a scrum collapsed.

The collapse lead to a severe injury to the 21 year-old Gilgandra prop forward, playing just his sixth first grade game for Penrith. Sadly it was also his last.

John Farragher had packed into the scrum at prop on the right-hand side. The loosely packed scrum, which had long been the scourge of commentators and fans alike, began to twist to his left.

Farragher’s neck was twisted hard against his right shoulder and his left arm was still over the neck of his hooker George Longhurst. As he began to lose his balance, the scrum also began to collapse. With his neck in a horrible position, he fell to the ground underneath his Newtown opponent in the scrum. The Newtown player was unable to prevent himself from falling and he fell on top of Farragher.

As the players collected themselves and started to clear the area, Farragher lay motionless on the ground, unable to move any of his limbs.

Dr Bill Monaghan, the Henson Park official medic, was quick to the scene and immediately knew that this injury was very severe indeed. He instantly called for a neck brace and stretcher and had Farragher rushed off the ground and into an ambulance.

Dr Monaghan was very concerned and requested that the ambulance have a police escort to ensure Farragher got to hospital unimpeded and as quickly as possible.

While his team-mates played on, oblivious to the extent of his injury, recording just their third victory of the year, Farragher was in intensive care having his injuries inspected.

It was found he had dislocated his neck and damaged his spinal cord. Doctors were able to successfully correct his neck, but they weren’t going to know how bad the spinal damage was for a few days.

The next day, he had some feeling in his right arm. Doctors were hopeful that he would avoid any severe disabilities but knew that such a prospect was unlikely.

An article about Farragher’s injury appeared on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald along with an image of him being stretchered off the field. His condition was reported as stable.

On Tuesday, July 30, two days after the injury, Penrith announced they would be setting up a trust fund later that week for Farragher. The appeal fund would be designed to provide Farragher with enough money for the rest of his life. Setting up this fund was first priority for Penrith, whose officials hadn’t even looked at the match footage until the fund had been created.

The next day the Sydney Morning Herald ran another front page story revealing that Farragher was a quadriplegic. Penrith revealed that the John Farragher Trust Fund was created. The Parramatta club also announced that they will donate a large percentage of their gate takings into the fund from their upcoming match.

Another appeal had also been created in Farragher’s home town of Gilgandra by the locals, who wanted to do what they could to help John and his family.
Farragher was kept in intensive care and the spinal unit for another week before being allowed to return home, unable to walk ever again. John managed to prove to be an inspiration for people everywhere by continuing to have as much of a normal life as possible. He managed to become a father at age 31 to son Jake, ten years after becoming a quadriplegic. He was also employed by Penrith Leagues Club, where he has worked for almost 30 years.

His son Jake played in the Toyota Cup for Cronulla in 2008 as a prop, just like his old man.

But as much as there is the silver lining to this horrific story, there is still the tragedy which will never be forgotten.

Fellow Panthers prop, friend and room-mate at the time of the injury, Ross Cale was in tears when seeing his mate motionless on the ground, and then hearing the question no one wants to have to answer from a mate in despair and in need of support.

“Will I be a cripple?”

1 comment:

  1. Just read this story about John who Iv'e become a good friend of through business and seeing him regularly at Panthers. As most would know John has just been honoured in the Australia Day list of special people and must say he deserves his award for for his caring attitude to all that meet him and the hundreds of times he has arranged for jersies and other memorabilia to be signed for fund raisers for people in need of financial assistance.Hope you continue to keep on with your great work John and congratulations on your award.
    Peter Hampton
    Cranebrook NSW


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