Cork star O’Neill ready for ‘biggest test’

Colm O'Neill
Colm O'Neill

Colm O’Neill has accepted an invitation from Conor Counihan to remain on with the Cork panel for the remainder of the season.

The Ballyclough man cruelly suffered a third cruciate injury during last month’s Division 1 win over Donegal in Páirc Uí Rinn. He will shortly undergo an operation on his left knee with renowned surgeon Dr Tadhg O’Sullivan in Waterford. Appreciating it will be the biggest test of his mettle yet, the 2012 All-Star is determined to come back stronger than ever.

“Conor has extended an invitation for me to stay involved with the set up for the season; a gesture that means a lot,” said O’Neill in his blog on the new GAA JustPlay app. “For now though, the next steps on the road to recovery are ones I must take myself.

“I am due to undergo surgery in the coming days, and from there on, the long road back will begin. Again. This is undoubtedly the greatest challenge I have faced to date. It’s time to get started.”

O’Neill appreciates he has to remain positive to come back a third time for Cork and takes some comfort for knowing what’s ahead of him.

However, he readily admits he’s been down about his latest setback.

“I’ve been through this before, and I know what is required to get back. That’s one thought going through my head. I CAN do this. I’ve done it before — twice. Part of me likes the challenge of having to climb the mountain for a third time.

“Certain people, the great Henry Shefflin among them, have been unlucky enough to suffer two cruciate ligament tears.

“The list of three timers is pretty small, and it’s not a club I ever wanted to join. But it’s now a reality, and like it or lump it, it’s something I’m going to have to get my head around.

“I’ve been trying to stay positive — but it hasn’t always been easy. There are certainly times when I’ve asked myself why has this happened to me, and what have I done to deserve this.

“However, I’ve quickly come to realise wallowing in self-pity is not going to do me any good, and it certainly won’t get me back out on the pitch.”

After scoring two points in the opening exchanges against Donegal, O’Neill recalls the moment when he damaged his left knee — the other two operations were on his right side — as “an innocuous fall”.

“A ball was played into the full forward line and I gathered it ahead of the opposition. Upon landing on the ground, my knee jarred in the ground and I felt a chilling case of déjà vu.

“If it popped, I hadn’t heard it. I knew it was bad, but I hadn’t heard the pop. Lying on the stretcher in Páirc Uí Rinn, every thought imaginable went through my head. Was it the cruciate again? Why is this happening to me? Is it just bad luck or am I doing something wrong? I looked up at the sky and wanted it to swallow me up. All the emotions flowing around my head became overwhelming.

“I knew the routine from here — I would be booked in for an appointment in Waterford with a specialist. Hoping against hope, I clung on to this no pop theory until I met my surgeon and had a scan. Dr Tadhg O’Sullivan is a lovely man, and an excellent surgeon, but we’ve been seeing far too much of each other for my liking.”

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