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Aaron Donnelly opens up on ‘mad’ Dundee season, ‘scary’ heart condition and defibrillators at Dens

The Nottingham Forest defender enjoyed his time with the Dark Blues but admits it was a tough campaign.

Aaron Donnelly
Aaron Donnelly enjoyed a successful loan spell at Dundee - but had ups and downs in dark blue. Image: David Young/Shutterstock

Talented young footballers are sent out from their parent clubs to pick up experience.

Usually that means playing games, making mistakes and learning on the job with another side at a lower level.

Often there is no substitute for game time.

For Aaron Donnelly, though, his year at Dundee brought a completely different kind of experience to handle.

Some of it on the pitch but also a whole lot off the pitch.

He arrived in the City of Discovery from Nottingham Forest but almost immediately got injured and headed back to the City Ground for recovery.

It took until October before he made it out onto the pitch in dark blue, helping Dundee to a win over Livingston.

On debut for Dundee.
Aaron Donnelly on debut for Dundee. Image: David Young/Shutterstock

Then a return to Northern Ireland U/21 duty ended prematurely with a red card in the first half in Azerbaijan.

Fortunately that early return to Dundee coincided with a squad-wide ECG session, testing the players for any heart issues.

Fortunate because Donnelly’s scan had picked something up. He had Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome.

Donnelly: ‘It’s been a mad season’

“To be honest, it was a really tough season,” Donnelly explained.

“If anyone had said what was going to happen this season I’d have thought they were joking.

“I signed last summer and second day in training I got injured, done my ankle and was out almost three months.

“I’m thinking ‘will I get in the team when I get back up? What will all the boys think?’

At Dens Park.
Aaron Donnelly takes on Rangers at Dens Park. Image: SNS

“I came back up and was trying to get fitness up and got the opportunity to go away with Northern Ireland U/21s.

“My first game, I played 37 minutes and got sent off! So that wasn’t a very good start.

“I came back here and just luckily people were getting random ECGs done. Mine came back saying I had a heart condition.

“I had to have an operation which put me out for a month, month-and-a-half.

“It’s been a mad season.”

Defibrillators at Dens

Donnelly has been full of praise for how Dundee handled the issue.

And how they have handled his entire time on loan, saying farewell with a social media message saying: “A season full of ups and downs with a special group of boys! Thanks for everything Dundee.”

The young defender, who has been called up to the senior Northern Ireland side this month, can’t speak highly enough of the help given him by club medic Dr Derek McCormack.

However, he admits it was a “scary” time with defibrillators ready pitchside during games in case there was an incident before he went under the knife.

Aaron Donnelly
Aaron Donnelly captains Northern Ireland U/21s. Image: SNS

“I was meant to play in a reserve cup game and the doc rang me at 8am. I was like ‘what does the doc want at this time?’” the 20-year-old said.

“He says I had to come in and have a word with him. He couldn’t do it over the phone.

“I wasn’t expecting much, something with my ankle or something.

“It came back I was low risk but I still had to have the operation. I got all the checks done before going back to training.

“When I was playing up till Christmas the medical staff were aware and had defibs at the side of the pitch.

“It was actually quite scary.


“You have to try to put that to the side and try to play football.

“But the doc was really good and reassuring me and my family. He had control of it, everything was sorted.

Aaron Donnelly.
Aaron Donnelly played 21 times for Dundee. Image: SNS

“I had really good trust in the doc. He’s really experienced and told me that if he knew I couldn’t play, he wouldn’t put me on the pitch.

“I had real trust in him. And if anything did happen, the medical staff are aware and everything.

“He and Forest were great and thankfully it’s all done now.”

Donnelly has said his goodbyes to Dundee and heads back to Nottingham Forest.

The defender now goes in search of his first international cap as Northern Ireland face Spain next Saturday and Andorra three days later.