Don’t let his club Dr. Crokes hear it but Gavin White agrees that the knee cartilage injury he aggravated in last year’s All-Ireland final was the most worthwhile setback of his career.
Turning 26 this week, the wing-back speedster hasn’t kicked a ball in anger since that victory over Galway and may not see any Allianz League action across the next nine or 10 weekends.
For a man who unusually has almost twice as many championship appearances as league games to his name, that is nothing new. Yet a football-less spring is a possibility as he continues to work his way back to full fitness after microfracture surgery last August and then six weeks on crutches.
It was only recently that he began running again but it was worth it when a long-standing left knee issue that became worse in the semi-final win over Dublin had threatened to rule him out of the final.
"It has been in a way but I don’t know would my club be happy with that statement,” he smiles. “I haven’t played since the Galway game and I have never gotten that much of a break in all my career so far.
“When I first came in with Kerry, I was fortunate to go on good long runs with Dr Crokes into the All-Ireland so I was straight back into Kerry with that. So, it has been the complete opposite which is unusual. I hope it will be beneficial, but we’ll only see that when I can get back on the pitch.”
White hadn’t been expected to feature never mind start against Galway but the scan of his knee revealed nothing significant. He only returned to the pitch the Tuesday before the final and took part in a light session the following Thursday. To get through the entire game was a miracle of sorts.
“I'm not sure how it managed to do that, but I suppose the adrenalin and the excitement got me over the line.
“It started giving me a bit of bother alright towards the very, very end. I remember I punched a point, I think I collided with Seán Kelly at the time with maybe 71 or 72 minutes on the clock. That is when it started kicking up again, but thankfully the game was nearly wrapped up at that stage.”
White was a ball of emotions at the final whistle, one of them he later identified as relief having been four seasons striving for a Celtic Cross.
“I did an interview after the game and the question was asked of me ‘did we feel the pressure’ and I said ‘no’ at the time.
“But looking back, there was obviously pressure on us, a lot of pressure over the last couple of years in that we didn’t get over the line and maybe should have in certain cases but weren’t good enough on the day. And again there were expectations on us to be competing at the highest level on a yearly basis and we weren’t doing that.
“The emotions of it, the excitement of it, seeing your parents. As the week goes on, you get to really realise how important Kerry football is to the Kerry people. In particular, I brought the Sam Maguire to my home house and the grandparents’ house and just to have the cup on the kitchen table was beyond their wildest dreams. Moments like that are special and I will take to the grave with me.”
A couple of days after David Moran confirmed his inter-county retirement, White heralded the midfielder as being a father-like figure to him.
“Look, I can't say anything but good things about the man. A real leader on and off the pitch.
“From a team point of view, he was absolutely extraordinary in everything he did. From the public, he's obviously known for lording kick-outs and so on and so forth, but inside in the dressing room, he was just so much more. A real leader, really wanted to get Kerry over the line.
“From my own personal point of view, he was kind of a father figure to me. When I first came in with Kerry, he was one of the first players that would have come up to me and welcomed me into the squad. He really took me under his wing, which I'm forever grateful for. I'm sad to see him go, but at the same time, I'm delighted I got to play minutes with him. A great leader on and off the pitch, I could sit here all day talking him up, a real gent.”