He didn’t quite realise he was doing so but the young Douglas forward’s description of the impact of his cruciate knee ligament injury amounted to a textbook example of coping with grief.
The agonising injury occurred just days after shooting 1-7 for Cork in the 2017 All-Ireland minor final, in club football training, of all places.
“If anybody told me it was going to be the cruciate, I refused to listen,” he said at the time.
Classic denial of course.
Then came the emotion and the anger. “I was very upset for the next couple of weeks,” he confided.
Being named Minor Hurler of the Year for 2017 perhaps softened the blow and eventually Turnbull accepted his lot and resolved to return stronger. Not that it’s been an easy journey back.
“The recovery took the whole of 2018 nearly, in terms of the proper season,” said the UCC student. “It can be frustrating too when you come back because you expect to be at a certain level.
“I would have played a lot of games with the UCC freshers and it would have been frustrating when things weren’t working as I wanted. But you realise that just because things aren’t working, it doesn’t mean you’re not going in the right direction. You could call them poor games that I played but they stood to me as the year went on.”
As if to provide confirmation of his return to full health and top form, Turnbull was called into the extended Cork senior panel earlier this year. He sat on the bench for one Allianz League game — the high point of the campaign, as it happened — their win over All-Ireland holders and eventual league champions Limerick.
The year would ultimately end on a low note for the seniors, prompting John Meyler’s departure, but Turnbull is grateful for the opportunity he got.
What being in there did for me personally was that it showed me, not in a negative sense, but it did show me everything I’m lacking, everything I need to do. Because it’s such a leap up from U20s to seniors. It was a motivational thing for me.
The Cork U20s have benefited from that ambition with Turnbull shooting 0-10 from play so far in the championship; 0-4 against Limerick, 0-4 against Clare and 0-2 in the Munster final loss to Tipperary. He says his knee is ‘perfect’ now and is more concerned with niggling hamstring issues.
“When you get a long-term injury, it’s often something else that comes at you then, rather than the injury itself,” he said.
He is thankful to two Cork icons, Seán Óg Ó hAilpín and Tom Kenny, for helping him rediscover his mojo as the star-studded management of the UCC freshers. Turnbull particularly enjoyed Seán Óg’s pre-match oratories.
“They were fairly intense now, a bit of Irish thrown in just to get you going,” he smiled.
There’s a serious side to it all of course as Cork look to rising stars like Turnbull to smash through the glass ceiling that’s developed in the underage ranks. The county hasn’t won an U20 (previously U21) All-Ireland since 1998, when Seán Óg was playing himself, and the last minor title arrived on Leeside in 2001.
According to Brian Corcoran, it is this lack of underage success that is at the root of an apparent lack of belief in the senior team who have come up short in All-Ireland quarter and semi-final ties in the last three seasons. “You wonder, the guys that are there now, do they actually believe?” queried Corcoran, who concluded that “Cork need to start delivering at underage.”
Turnbull doesn’t disagree.
“I guess we’re maybe short of it (belief) at the moment and it’s hugely important, let’s say if you have lads on the senior panel who have All-Irelands built up from underage and from over the years, there’s going to be a confidence there,” said the 20-year-old. “Winning breeds winning.”
Turnbull came on and scored a point in last year’s Board Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21 final loss to Tipperary. Cork were favourites having dismantled Tipp in the Munster final but were edged out on the ultimate stage. The hope is they can flip that pattern on its head this season and come good when it truly counts. “It was disappointing to lose the Munster final but the performances have been slowly building; Limerick, Clare, Tipp,” said Turnbull. “I think we’re in a good place coming into this game.”