This year’s Co-Op Superstores Munster Senior Hurling League clash between Waterford and Cork probably won’t live long in the memory, but it was hugely significant for one of the participants.
Colm Spillane missed out on last season so that game in Dungarvan was his first competitive outing since October 2018.
“I’d been playing in a couple of internal games,” he says.
“Ten minutes here and 15 minutes there, so that Waterford game was a big one. Then a couple of weeks after that I played the full game against Limerick (in the final), so it was great to get 70 minutes under my belt.
“I’d been doing plenty of running and playing in those internal games, but you can’t replicate a competitive game.”
Throughout 2018 his Achilles was sore, “but once I was playing it was fine. The mornings after training, though, both tendons were sore, so after the county final that year I took some time off to rehab them, I got some injections to help the blood flow — but nothing seemed to work.
“My back would be stiff as well, but that was nothing unusual until I woke up one morning in January with sciatica down my left side.”
A scan showed a ruptured disk in his back and Spillane was sent to specialist Michael O’Sullivan.
“He gave me two options: I could skip the surgery and it might take a year before I could play again - and I might still need surgery anyway.
The other option was immediate surgery, and then be back running after eight weeks, contact training after 12 weeks. That was January so I thought in terms of the timeframe for the season it wasn’t too bad.
After surgery he spent four weeks on his back. No sitting, no bending over (“If you dropped something, tough luck.”).
He was looking for diversions.
“I’d never really used a Playstation before but I got into it then,” he laughs.
“Red Dead Redemption, God Of War — I’d play those during the day, Netflix box sets in the evening.
“Funny thing about Playstation, I’d never have been that interested in them but you’d lose hours to it. Even a good box set, Narcos or whatever, that might drag at stages, but you could get lost with the Playstation.
You’d look at the watch and it might be 2am! Then again, I was off work so I had nothing to be up in the morning for.
After seven weeks he was back running but his achilles was worse than ever.
“The rehab I’d done after the previous season had probably gone to waste, so I had another operation.”
This time the tendinitis in the Achilles was removed and so were his plantaris tendons — in both feet.
“Obviously I was under pressure to get back for the season. It was April at that stage and even though I got back training three weeks after the operation they were still very sore. After Cork’s first championship match against Tipperary there was a challenge game set up for Laois, and after five minutes of the warm-up, I just said I couldn’t carry on.”
Another scan in June showed Spillane’s Achilles tendons needed more rehab: “I spoke to a few people and they recommended taking three months off — no rehab, nothing. That’s how the year ran away from me. It’s frustrating when you’re nearly back and then you can’t carry on.
“In 2016 I did my cruciate in February so I knew there was clarity: you’re gone for the year.
That was really disappointing, but at least you know there are stages of rehab and so on. Last year I was almost back, then out, then almost back, then out again.
Still, it opened another door. When Spillane injured his cruciate four years ago he took the chance to travel and hit for Thailand. Last summer he packed his bags and went in the opposite direction.
“I went to Guatemala, Mexico and Belize. It was great — we went to Cancun in Mexico for a bit, which is a party place, and then we went up the east coast. It is a lovely part of the world, you’d get a real feel for what Mexico is like.
“Was it safe? It was as long as you’d keep your wits about you, like anywhere that you’re not used to. There’s poverty there, but the poverty in Guatemala was another level altogether.
“The slums, people living in shacks on the side of the road.
“I came back late on the Friday night and Cork were playing Kilkenny that Sunday. By the time I adjusted to the time difference and woke up Sunday it was too late to get up to Dublin for the game.”
Well, maybe just as well. How refreshing was it to step outside the intercounty bubble, though?
“It’s a nice break, and I suppose it’s an insight into what it’ll be like when you finish up.
“I’d had something similar in 2016, heading to Thailand when I was injured.
“Having said that, I’m 27 this year.
“You’d feel the years of your career are moving on. But it was still a great break, to do what you want when you want, whatever you like — it’s so structured when you’re on an intercounty team, and I like it, but there’s a freedom that you wouldn’t be used to.
Still, if I had a year that the body was up to playing then I’d want to play, and the break certainly whetted the appetite. Hopefully I’ve a few injury-free years ahead.
That means the red jersey this weekend, with Cork facing Waterford in their Allianz League opener (Walsh Park, 2pm). He’s glad to have a couple of outings under his belt already.
“It’s a massive adjustment,” says Spillane of returning to intercounty action.
“Your judgement, your touch — even though we’ve had internal games, which are great, in the game against Limerick I noticed my timing needed work.
“Knowing when to go, when to stick, even things that you’d take for granted normally like judging the flight of the ball in the air — they all need work.
“Probably the hardest part when you come back in is getting your decision-making right again — when to leave it off, when to give a pass. In training you think ‘my striking is good, my touch is good’ but your decision-making comes under pressure if you’ve been out.
“I didn’t play for a year and three months, it’s a long time to go without a match.”
Cork boss Kieran Kingston said earlier this week that his side needs to be more consistent, and Spillane agrees.
“In 2017, 2018 we were quite consistent those seasons apart from the last game of the year.
“We hadn’t had that consistency for a couple of years before that and we didn’t really have it last year either. We were shocking against Tipperary the first day and then had a brilliant performance against Limerick in the second game. You get that through your training, through every training session being good. Before Christmas we had a lot of lads away with medium-term, short-term injuries, but training has been excellent for the last few weeks.
“And if you can train like that all the time the consistency comes through in your performances, in every game — being at it in those internal A versus B games, for instance.
You’re all the time hearing how competitive those games are with the Dublin footballers or the Kilkenny hurlers, and building on what we were able to do in 2017 and 2018 is very important.
That pressure to produce in every training session is a key element in building that consistency, he adds: “You can’t get consistency in games unless you’re doing it all the time in training. That’s what consistency means, at the end of the day.
“You have to be putting yourself under pressure to perform in training, that competition for training has to be there. Our training sessions have been very good in that regard recently.
“And there’s a real sense of urgency there. I think we have a good mix of younger and older players but we also have lads in their late twenties, early thirties, lads who know we have to get our performances up a level to compete for silverware.
“We’re looking for a good start and for a good league campaign.
That would help with the consistency we’re looking for, and you often see that teams which do well in the league carry that over into the championship later.