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08th Dec 2022

‘I just became obsessed with football’ – Cruciate curse actually a blessing for Sheehan

Niall McIntyre

A cruciate knee ligament injury is every sportsperson’s nightmare.

First of all, between the initial pain and the after-effects of the operation, you’re talking two months of hobbling.  You’re looking at, at the very least, nine months on the sideline. And to ensure your recovery takes nine months, and not any longer, you’re going to have to put in some extremely hard hours in the gym.

But individuals and examples from the past have shown that cruciate injuries don’t have to be disastrous. They can be a springboard to better things.

Ciaran Kilkenny was cursed by the dreaded c-word in 2014 but, in the aftermath, he talked about that injury as if it was a blessing. During the rehab, he learned more about his body than he’d ever known. As a result, his gym-work became more effective, and when he came back, he came back much stronger.

“Since I got injured,” Kilkenny said in 2015, “The gym work has been pivotal in helping to strengthen the quads, the hamstrings, all around there.

“We did testing before we got injured, and when we came back, some of the scores were a lot better. You’re in the gym for four or five months so you get to specify a lot of parts of your body so you do come back stronger,” added the Castleknock club-man.

Kilkenny tore his cruciate when he was 20 years of age. Since then, he’s come back to win six All-Ireland medals and six All-Stars.

Limerick’s Cian Sheehan tore his cruciate in 2019, when he was out playing football in America and that was a fork in the road. He decided to take the hard road and, in the mean-time, having come for his surgery and his recovery, his graft has been rewarded.

“When I came back to Ireland and got surgery on my cruciate a couple months later, Billy Lee rang me and asked me to come back into the Limerick squad and just be a part of it and get involved,” Sheehan recalls.

“Just chatting to the lads and doing my rehab in conjunction with the lads doing training definitely helped.

“I was maybe eight months into the rehab and was back in contention to get on the match day panel and then Covid hit which gave me another a couple of months and thankfully I went from strength to strength from there.”

Sheehan says that, as he put the head down for his rehabilitation, he became obsessed with the game.

“I suppose I fell out of love with the game for a small bit there but following the cruciate I’ve just become obsessed with football. I wasn’t like that when I was younger and on county panels.

“I’ve applied myself a lot better and obviously I’m more mature and more tactically aware. Physically I’ve built on that. So I’m in a place now where I’ve never enjoyed football as much.

“I still feel there’s massive scope physically and technically to improve. I’m looking forward to pushing on in that regard as well, so hopefully next year would be another improvement.”

He had a good season with Limerick, making it to the Munster final against Kerry, but he’s hoping to go one step further with the club. Newcastle West take on Kerins O’Rahillys in the AIB Munster final this Saturday night in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

And Sheehan is well placed to say that, despite the below comments in the media this week, there is still a huge gap between senior club and senior inter-county. No matter what team you’re talking.

“To be honest, it’s a huge difference,” he says.

“Your time on the ball, your time to think, there’s just more pressure on you.

“It’s very hard to get space in inter-county. The step-up is just huge. Even the last day against Commercials, that was a very fast, tough game but you’ll have more time on the ball than we did anyway, against Kerry for instance, in the Munster final.

“You just don’t have a second to breathe.”

Now is their time.

“We’re not here to make up the numbers on Saturday. The Commercials game was a relief more than anything.

“We felt we’d be knocking on the door and it was great to just get over that line. That would give us a lot of confidence.”

“I don’t mind the underdog tag, playing with Limerick or Newcastle West, I’m used to it. We don’t need to use it to fire us up. We’re fired up already.

4 December 2022; Cian Sheehan of Newcastle West, left, and David Moran of Kerins O’Rahilly’s in attendance during the AIB Munster GAA Football Senior Club Championship Final Media Event at John Mitchels GAA Club in Tralee, Kerry. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile