Although very much aware that time is not on his side, Richie McCarthy has not given up hope of playing some part — any part — in Limerick’s Liam MacCarthy defence.
It is now six and a half months since the Limerick defender underwent surgery for a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament and when pressed for a return date, the 31-year-old admits it is his ambition to be back on the field for his native Blackrock when the county premier intermediate hurling championship resumes at the end of August.
Of course, the inter-county season will have concluded by that point, so has McCarthy resigned himself to the likelihood that he won’t be part of a Limerick match-day panel in 2019?
“Not necessarily. I just have to take it week by week,” says the experienced defender.
“At the moment, I am working with the Limerick physio, Mark Melbourne. I feel I am getting stronger week by week, so, hopefully, if I can continue along the right line, I’ll be back sooner rather than later. At the same time, you don’t want to pre-empt anything or rush back.
Irrespective of whether or not he pulls on the Limerick shirt this year, McCarthy has designs on inter-county involvement in 2020. He’s determined, whenever the time should come, to sign off on his own terms. This cruciate tear, he's adamant, won’t be responsible for bringing an end to his inter-county days.
“Everyone has to bow out eventually, but I don’t want to go out like this. I want to be back on the field playing with Limerick. I feel I still have something to offer [Limerick]. Hopefully, it will be this year, but, if not, I am determined to get back on the field with Limerick.
“John [Kiely] was very good to me when I did my ACL. He said, ‘we will do anything in our power to get you back, you have been a great servant to Limerick and we don’t want it to end like this’.”
The injury which has him sidelined as Kiely and Limerick ramp up preparations ahead of next month’s Munster championship occurred just 12 days after the All-Ireland final victory, in which McCarthy was introduced as Limerick’s first substitution with 20 minutes remaining in the game against Galway.
The Friday week after, his knee jarred five minutes into Blackrock’s Limerick PIHC clash against Pallasgreen. The Cork county council clerical officer was promptly removed from the fray, but given the pain was by no means intolerable, the All-Ireland winner was put in at corner-forward for the closing five minutes.
“After coming back on, I caught a ball, but when I went to turn, I collapsed. I heard a pop alright early on in the game, but I wasn’t sure what it was. I wasn’t familiar with doing an ACL. There was a soreness under my knee when I came off first, but it was bearable, so I said I’d chance coming back on as the match was in the melting pot. I had no advice on the sideline. If you were in with Limerick, someone would be there to tell you had it done.
“A scan early the next week confirmed there was an ACL tear. You went from one incredible high to a serious low. It was very frustrating. I had planned to bring the Liam MacCarthy to my local school, Scoil Pól Kilfinane, but I had to delay all of that because of the operation.”
Surgery would not prevent him missing the Super 11s outing to Boston or the team holiday to LA and Cancun, although he says he took it very handy where the latter trip was concerned.
“The lads were doing beach runs during the team holiday, so I had to stay with all the women while they were going on. I had to mind the women while the lads were out running!”.
Having travelled with the team to Croke Park for last month’s league final, the 2013 All-Star says the eight-point victory over Waterford painted as clear a picture as is possible that this Limerick group are not content with one All-Ireland.
“Everyone in the background, supporters and the likes, had reservations as to how we would respond to winning the All-Ireland. We put that to bed by winning the league. The lads have won All-Ireland U21 titles, they are still young, they have a ferocious appetite to go and win more. You can see that at training. The training sessions are run at a fierce high intensity.
“I would be optimistic for them going into the summer, but you have to take that with a pinch of salt in that getting out of Munster is going to be very, very hard. There are club games on at the moment so any lad could pick up an injury. It is all in the first game. If you win the first game against Cork, you can really set your stall up for the year.”