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20th Sep 2023

“Deep-down, I always felt I’d get back” – McCarthy’s return a true case of mind-over-matter

Niall McIntyre

Billy McCarthy’s hamstring came against him last year.

It niggled away at him through the season and, as he missed a game here and a training there, he wasn’t really operating at 100%.

Off the back of a long-term injury like his, it was only natural for the body to throw a wobbler every now and again. There were always going to be a few bumps on the road.

But when you’ve been through what he’s been through. And when you’ve been knocked out so many times that the road to recovery is as familiar as the back of your hand, a hamstring injury is only a small price to pay.

A hamstring injury is only chicken feed for someone like Billy McCarthy.

“You’ve done three years to get here,” the Thurles Sarsfields club-man smiles, “You’re not going to give up now over a month or something small like that.”

The longest three years of Billy McCarthy’s life began on a Wednesday evening in Templetuohy, in the summer of 2018.

He was 21 at the time, young and free and floating on the back of his breakthrough season for the Tipperary senior hurlers.

Tipperary had a bad year, they didn’t get out of Munster, but McCarthy hurled well and his brilliant individual goal against Clare was the shining light.

But it was less than six weeks later, on a dark night for the county, when McCarthy was knocked back in his prime.

He tore the ACL and PCL in his right knee in a club game against JK Brackens, with a number of the smaller ligaments going too.

The injury was so bad that, in the weeks that followed, he was up the wall with worry as the feeling took its time coming back into his right leg. Imagine that for a second.

It eventually did, but that was only the start of a long, winding road to recovery.

McCarthy got back running within 12 months but he knew something was off, and was almost relieved when the surgeons told him that, unknown to himself, his cruciate ligament had gone again. Rinse and repeat.

That the initial feeling was relief tells a story in itself, but, for McCarthy, there was even more hardship coming down the tracks.

“There definitely was a time when I thought, is this it.

“After I got the second operation, and the progress wasn’t as good as I thought it would be, those thoughts do start seep in then. That was tough going.

“When you are having a bad day, you might think that. Will I get back at all?

“But I’ve always felt though, that in the long-run, I would get back. Deep-down, I never wavered,” he tells SportsJOE now.

His resolve was tested once again, in the summer of 2020, when, for the third time, his cruciate went in a club game but, just like before, from somewhere deep within, McCarthy found the answers.

“When it went again. I knew I could come back, I’d gone through two years. I knew I could do it again.”

And so he has. It hasn’t been easy.

There have been little niggles here and there with the hamstring and the knee.

But he says that, now, five years on, he’s as fresh as he’s ever been. He played the full game for Thurles Sarsfields in their Tipperary SHC quarter final at the weekend, and has been a virtual ever-present through-out their campaign.

For that, he gives huge credit to Tipperary legend and Thurles Sarsfields manager Padraic Maher.

“Coming back initially, I wanted to do everything.

“But you get to know your body after a while.

“I know now that if I do too much during the week, it could hinder me then at the weekend.

“So I’m happy enough to do the gym sessions sometimes when the lads are out on the pitch.

“My best friend is the watt-bike. And that keeps you going too. You could be at the side of the pitch watching the lads training, but at least you’re there,” he says.

“We all know the dedication that Pauric has for the game.

“We saw that with our own eyes, the levels he set for himself, so that probably spurred us on a bit more even this year. And now we’re trying to hit those standards.”

“His arrival has freshened things up for us. He’s brought a different dynamic to it. He knows us on and off the field. He was dealt an unlucky blow, but he didn’t rest on his laurels. Straight into management.

“And Padraic and the management have been absolutely brilliant with me.

“They know my body. If I need a rest or a day off training, they’ve no problem with that.

“If my hamstring or my knee is at me, they pull me, and that epitomises the management. They’re not dogging us. They’re looking after our bodies.”

In his journey to here, a journey filled with bumps and bruises, McCarthy has learned loads. He’s grown because he’s had to. But above all else, his is the story of a man who just wouldn’t give up on the game he loves.

“On the mental side of things, it opened a whole new world for me.

“Even in games if you’re getting tired, you know there’s more in you. It’s one thing I learned over the three years, you always have that bit extra in you. You think you don’t. But you do. You just have to find it.

“It’s easy to say that, but when you’ve been through that, and experienced it, and you know it’s there, it stands to you.”

“You do miss it so much.

“I was out for three years with the knee. I knew I missed it, but you only really know when you’re back out there with your friends and winning. Having not experienced it in so long, you just really miss it.

“You don’t appreciate things until they’re gone and that has happened to me now.

“When you’re younger, you’re nervous and anxious going into games, and worried about making a mistake, but now, knowing all I’ve missed, I’m just going out trying to soak in, and enjoy absolutely every single minute of it.”

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