"This is as good as it gets" - Dan Leavy bows out of rugby after doing it all
He said the words with his mind dizzy from adrenaline and blasts of pure oxygen, but they rang truer than ever.
His knee mangled, his career in the balance, Dan Leavy turned to his Leinster coach Leo Cullen and told him, 'This is as good as it gets'.
As much as everyone hoped that would be proved wrong - he did play 16 more times for Leinster after an 18-month layoff - Leavy was right. He was 24-years-old and this was as good as it was ever going to get.
Back on March 30th 2019, Dan Leavy was cleared out of a breakdown with considerable force by Ulster's Wiehahn Herbst. His leg was trapped in a ruck and the impact of the clear-out basically obliterated his knee. Today, just over three years later, Leavy announced his retirement from rugby. He commented:
"I have done everything I can to come back from the knee injury I suffered in 2019 but unfortunately I can’t do any more or ask any more of my body...
"Not many people get to enjoy and experience what I have over the last 10 years representing my school, my club and my country. This is not the end I had hoped for, but as I look back, at the highs and the lows, they have all been shared with the best teammates, family and friends around me, and what more could I ask for?"
Two months after that gruesome injury, Leavy was one of the special guests for a live House of Rugby show that we did at Liberty Hall, in Dublin, ahead of the PRO14 Final. He talked us through the brutal moment of his knee injury, and the Aviva Stadium aftermath, that night.
'I knew straight away - serious alarm bells'
The fateful moment in what would eventually end up as the injury that cost Dan Leavy an even greater career than he already had occurred in the final quarter of a gripping Champions Cup quarter final clash between Leinster and Ulster.
Leinster were leading 18-13 but Ulster were flinging every sink they could get their hands on. Leavy went in for a breakdown poach - he was notoriously good at it - and Herbst went off his feet to clear him out.
"Someone went off their feet," Leavy recalled. "I was caught in a poaching position and my knee sort of got hit, and dislocated backwards.
"I knew straight away - serious alarm bells.
"I've had a few knee injuries before. I actually played against Ulster in a pre-season game, about three or four years ago, and I got rolled out of a ruck by big Nick Williams and I had a bit of a dislocation then too, so I knew straight away.
"That time, it popped back in. This time, it was out and it wasn't going back in. I was giving it a rattle myself, to see if it could pop in, which, I'm thinking, isn't the best idea, in hindsight.
"So the physios came on and popped it back in and I had two of those (oxygen) pipes and it was sweet cinnamon for the rest of the evening!"
The flanker's posterior and anterior cruciate ligaments [PCL and ACL] were both ruptured. Back in May 2019, he acknowledged the World Cup, that autumn, was out of the picture. He would not be back for at least a year. As it turned out, it was 19 months before he played for Leinster again.
Leavy says he was told, the following day, about how he coped with the injury as he was convalescing in the Leinster dressing room. The only issue here was, he could not recall a single minute of it, or his conversation with Cullen.
'I looked like an alien - white as a ghost'
"A few of the guys popped over, just to say hello," Leavy recalled. "I had unbelievable support from friends and family, after, and players, everyone coming over with their wishes and stuff. But the guys came over and after a chat [about it] it very quickly blew over and I don't want to dwell on it.
"We were chatting away and the lads said, 'You were so funny, yesterday, in the changing room'. I was like, 'But I wasn't in the changing room'.
"They told me I had said, 'I'm getting nothing from the pipes', like no relief. And they were looking at me [and] wondering, 'Is he for real?'
"They proceeded to tell me that I had been in the changing room for about 20 minutes and had been talking to all the lads. I have no recollection. I literally got wheeled in and, they were saying, I looked like an alien. White as a ghost, waving and smiling to everyone....
"All the lads were coming up to me - and this is hearsay now because I can't remember this - and telling me Leo had come over to me. Now, I had little flashes [of this], but I said to Leo, 'This is as good as it gets' and I gave him a hug!"
Whatever Leavy was getting from those pipes, it was a pretty damn accurate. This was as good as it was going to get.
There were multiple set-backs and multiple comebacks, too. Leavy did return in October 2020 but it was rarely easy going. It was almost as if the initial injury set off a chain reaction.
To this day, now that Leavy has hung up his boots, one of his most remarkable achievements is the fact that he managed 16 games, scored three tries and got a man-of-the-match award on his first start back [against Edinburgh]. He willed his body through immense pain and gave it all he could until he finally had to admit defeat.
I could have went with his honours sheet higher up in the piece, to let some casual fans know just how good Dan Leavy was, but it is a fitting place to end this particular story.
Three league titles and a Champions Cup with Leinster, one Six Nations Grand Slam with Ireland, one winning tour to Australia and he was part of the team that denied England a Grand Slam, on Irish soil, in 2017. 11 Test matches played for Ireland and 11 Test matches won.
He played for Leinster from 2014 to 2022 but the golden years were 2015 to 2019. Aged 22 to 24, he was world-class and there were few that would rival him on the pitch.
It was not the longest career but, barring a World Cup triumph [we can all dream], Dan Leavy achieved it all, and at rapid pace.