Dan Leavy was injured maybe a month or so, his prognosis having confirmed a catastrophic knee injury and a watching brief at the upcoming World Cup, when he posted a message on social media explaining how such a sudden plunge in fortunes was “haunting” him.
Only four months have passed since the fateful day when he damaged an assortment of ligaments in the left knee, an injury suffered just 10 minutes after taking to the field as a second-half replacement in Leinster’s Champions Cup win against Ulster at Aviva Stadium.
He still has a long road to go. You wondered, then, how he would feel when he turned up at Ukiyo Japanese restaurant on Dublin’s Exchequer St yesterday with its oriental food and decor accompanied for the day by a Taiko drummer and women in kimonos to promote the Vodafone ‘Ireland’s Ball’ initiative.
Leavy was all smiles for the camera but far more serious when he sat down in the basement karaoke room and next to a song sheet with a top page bearing titles including ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ by Tears for Fears and Tanya Tucker’s ‘Down To My Last Teardrop’.
“It’s been OK,” he explained, rather unconvincingly. “I’ve had a fair few injuries now at this stage. I’m pretty well used to sitting out some big games. Not to this extent, but the way we structured our rehab is that I’ll work for four or five weeks, really hard, double sessions every day, in for a good few hours in each session.
“Work really hard and then take a long weekend or something at the end of it. So it’s not as monotonous. I’ll work really hard, they can see a lot of progress with the knee and I can see myself getting stronger.
The current block of rehab may be freshened up with a trip Stateside to see some NFL specialists. The IRFU’s head of athletic performance and science is Nick Winkelman whose previous job with EXOS involved work with the NFL’s college draft and combine. It’s an exciting prospect for Leavy, who is an avid Indianapolis Colts fan.
“We’ll wait and see if that happens, it all depends on how I’m progressing.”
Leavy has always been a confident type — bordering on cocky — but there was none of that as he talked through his road back. How could there be? The wrenching away of his World Cup dream is clearly still raw. He couldn’t bear the pre-match TV build-up to Ireland’s first warm-up against Italy. It was approaching half-time before he could turn the game on.
He spent a month on the couch just waiting for the swelling to subside before the first of two operations in London though serious strides followed. David Meyler,Tom Parsons, and Eoghan Masterson, who have suffered similar blows, have been in contact. All wereastonished to hear he was walking by the time Leinster played Toulouse in the European semi-final.
That was only three weeks after the incident.
The second operation did produce a “little setback”. He was prepared for the possibility that a reset button would be needed but shocked at how normal the joint looked apart from the scars. He wasn’t long putting some muscle back on the leg.
Bottom line? The specialists see no reason he won’t return and, even better, come back as the same physical specimen and athlete we knew. We can but hope. Leavy is a renowned ‘quick healer’. The goal now is that he will be good to return in time for Leinster’s perennial end-of-season push for silverware.
But there will be no shortcuts. No rush back in blue.
“This is a bit different,” the 25-year-old warned. “With something like an ankle injury I would always push it get back as quick as I can for the team. This is something that I really need to get right.
“If I rush back from this and reinjure or I come back early and it’s not right, it could be career changing so this is something I need to take my time with. If you are looking at the grand scheme of things and it’s a 12-month injury, if it takes 13 months what’s another month going to matter?”
It’s been tough. Clearly. And there’s another eight or so months to negotiate before this chapter can be put behind him. The World Cup may well be the toughest page and one that can’t be turned quick enough, even if he desperately wants Ireland to do the business in Japan.
All he can cling to is the positivity he feels from his doctors and the improvement he sees in the knee. Perspective helps too. He thinks of Eoin O’Malley, the former Leinster player whose career was ended by such a serious injury only six years ago and how his story may have been different had it happened now, given medicine’s strides.
“I’m just keeping the head down and giving it every shot I can to recover.”
Vodafone has created a world first ball grip featuring the fingerprints of 32 people representing the 32 counties of Ireland. Ireland’s Ball will travel to Japan with the Irish team as a symbol of the #TeamOfUs support. For a chance to present Ireland’s Ball to the team and win two tickets to Ireland v Wales on September 7 visit https://rugby.vodafone.ie/irelands-ball-competition/