All you can think about is getting back playing. And wondering what level you’ll get back to.
IT was unmistakable. That clicking sound he heard as he fell to the turf in Fitzgerald Stadium and the searing pain that washed over him. He knew instantly what it meant. The Cork medical team, lead by Dr Con Murphy and physio Colin Lane, may have reassured him. The management may have spoken after the match that he’d be a part of their revival after that Munster final loss. His teammates may have urged him to think positively.
But Ciaran Sheehan knew that 2011 had become a beaten docket. In a GAA year defined by the cruciate plague that swept the land, how could he not think of anything else when he felt that pain in his left knee?
Dr Ray Moran knew as well. He watched the TV coverage of Cork and Kerry slugging it out on the first Sunday in July and saw Sheehan crumpled on the ground. When Sheehan entered the Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry the following afternoon, Moran was expecting him.
“Everyone was saying on Sunday to be optimistic,” recalls Sheehan. “I just went along with it. Since we’d lost I didn’t really want the focus to be on me as I could see other fellas were hurting. I was dosed up on morphine heading to Dublin on the Monday, did the scan and Ray told me straight away. The cruciate and the medial were gone. There was nothing I could do. I just had to live with it.”
Five months on and at least there is light at the end of the tunnel. But he has had to endure darkness on route. The lowest point was the wait for the operation. His medial ligament had to heal sufficiently before the cruciate could be repaired.
“If the medial didn’t heal properly and they operated on it, then the knee would snap straight away when I bent it after. It had to be solid. The eight weeks waiting for the operation were tough. You’re laid up watching DVD’s, bored off your head and all you can think about is getting back playing. And wondering what level you’ll get back to. It was torture.
“I remember watching the start of the All-Ireland final between Dublin and Kerry, the build-up and the parade. But when the match started I switched over to watch Man United play instead. I couldn’t watch it having been out in Croke Park that day 12 months before and now having my knee bust in front of me.”
From all sides though, there was people looking to help him out and he was overwhelmed by the support. At the start of the year he was fitted out with a sponsored Audi car by Blackwater Motors and within a week of tearing his cruciate, the managing director Denis Murphy had arranged for that to be replaced with an automatic car to help him travel around. Texts and best wishes poured in from club mates in Éire Óg, all corners of the Cork GAA community and even from Melbourne, courtesy of Setanta Ó hAilpín. Other sources of support surprised him. The morning after the Munster final, a message popped up on his phone from Paul Galvin.
“I don’t know Paul at all and I’ve never spoken to him. But he wished me well and I appreciated that. David Moran, who did his cruciate earlier this year, got onto me later offering any help he could. Aidan O’Mahony passed on a message through Dr Con as well. It’s a nice touch to get a message from fellas you’re always up against. It’s only sport after all.”
On September 20, he finally went under the knife in Santry. Since that day, he’s been in rehab mode. It’s not been easy adjusting from a lifetime of being part of a team in a dressing-room and on a pitch, to slogging it out on his own in the gym. Colin Lane is his taskmaster and his soundboard.
“It’s tough going mentally when you’re down in Páirc Uí Chaoimh at eight o’clock in the morning doing a boxing session. The gym is empty and it’s freezing cold. You have to do those cardio sessions to keep the weight down. It’s just me and Colin. But he’s great to keep you going. It’s all stability and balance work at the moment. I haven’t ran five yards in three months. When I start running again, it’ll trigger hope of getting back.”
Regrets from 2011? He has a few and enough to mention. His superb form in Cork’s league final win in April hinted at a season of real promise. But by the time they got back to Croke Park, he was part of their growing injured attackers club who would meet with Dr Con in the team hotel on the night before a match to have a couple of pints and hear Cork GAA stories from the past.
His championship endeavours with Éire Óg were written off as he missed their first ever foray in the Cork U21AFC and their respective county IHC and IFC exits. He lined out in early June for CIT in the first round of the Cork SHC yet was sidelined for the remainder of their journey to the county final.
If there was one thing that really grated, it was not lining out for the Cork U21 hurlers. In 2010, the grapevine hummed with the news that Sheehan had pulled out of the squad just days before their Munster semi-final with Tipperary. Time to straighten the record.
“I’d made it clear to Ger (Fitzgerald) and the selectors at the start of 2010 that I wasn’t going to play and was focusing on the football. The way it was presented then in the summer, people are thinking that I pulled out late on. Ger’s a great fella and I get on very well with him.
“I was raring to go for hurling this year. I went up to the Tipp match with the team and ended up watching the Limerick match from home as I was sick. It was very frustrating not to be involved and I won’t get a chance again to play U21 again. Hurling is something I really want to give a go with Cork. If the knee comes right, hopefully I’ll get that chance.”
As 2011 draws to a close, and 2012 opens up before him, he’s optimistic. On December 20th, he took himself off to Australia for three weeks to stay in Perth with his cousin Jamie who manages a bar over there. A few buddies from Éire Óg hopped on board for the trip as well. It’s a chance to cool the jets.
“My grandfather Gussy was over there recently enough and he loved it. He’s 76 and the furthest he’d been before was England. It’s a great break, we’ll probably go up the coast at some stage as well and tie up with Aidan Walsh who’s over for New Year’s Eve. I’m getting physio over there twice a week as well. It’s been a tough year and I’m glad to see the back of it. But I look at this as a chance to get in very good physical shape. And above all else, the whole thing has built huge hunger for me for 2012. I can’t wait for it.”