Killian Young lay writhing on the turf of Fota Island Resort, his season over, his inter-county future in danger.
A week prior to the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin, Éamonn Fitzmaurice opted to remove his squad from the hype building in the county and took them to East Cork for a brief training camp.
In the midst of a full-blown inter-panel match, Young and Kieran O’Leary become entangled. Recalling the incident, Killian stands up from his chair in the Brehon Hotel to provide as accurate a description as he can.
“My ankle became twisted and the only way to relieve the pressure is for the leg to break, or so I have since been told by the physio,” he says. “So I suffered a dislocated ankle and broke the leg.
“It was just one of those moments when you think, ‘this could be it, it could all be stopping all of a sudden’.”
Kerry fell to Dublin and Young didn’t rejoin the panel until the following April. The nine-month period of exile, mind you, was self-enforced. The bank official had no interest in standing on the sideline in Killarney while others staked their claim for his spot during the league.
There was gym work to be done, of course, but instead of travelling over to Killarney to carry out his rehab in the company of fellow Kerry team-mates, he set up camp in the Brandon Hotel in Tralee.
For nine months, Young faced his reflection in the mirror of the hotel gym — often with one eye closed and wobbling on one leg so to correct his balance — and he thrived in the splendid isolation of it all.
“I was completely isolated,” he recalls.
“The medical team at Santry Sports Clinic had drawn up a programme and time had to be done in the gym. It wasn’t something that I was going to travel over to Killarney for, it was just more convenient to do it all in Tralee and it kept me more focused that way.
“So out of seven days in the week, I was in the gym for six. I was literally in my own zone doing what I needed to do to get back to where I was. I kind of tried to use it both ways then — to get a break from [the inter-county set-up] instead of constantly hanging around inside with the team and everybody asking me every single day how I was.”
The objective was not to return just physically fresh, but mentally too. Fair enough. But surely he accepts that the road travelled — or not as was the case here — went against the norm in terms of inter-county players remaining inside the fold while they work their way back from injury.
“You’re so used to being in a team environment so being on my on my own gave me a completely different look at things.
“I found it tough on my own, but I found I could be sitting around watching, frustrating myself inside [at training] and seeing what I’m not doing.
"It can actually beat you up a bit because you’re watching all the players in front of you developing, getting fitter, getting stronger, and you’re just sitting there doing the very basic stuff like trying to balance on one leg. I felt that it would only get worse for me watching on.
“There were plates and screws put in so it was one of those things where you’re thinking ‘if I don’t get this right, it could stop me now’.
“Now, I’d meet the lads when there were league games. It wasn’t like I wasn’t even talking to them. You’d meet fellas for tea. I just wasn’t going to watch them training on a cold night for an hour and a half when I had work to do.”
Once he was allowed off the couch by the medics in the weeks after the injury, the rehab process was painfully slow. At times, he burned with frustration, doubt too.
“You’re wondering is it going to end now. I said to myself, ‘you know this might stop right now’.”
Young was selected at right half-back for the following June’s Munster semi-final clash away to Clare and finished the summer with a fourth All-Ireland medal in the back pocket. The perspective drawn from this dark period continues to stand him in good stead.
“I’m enjoying it a lot more, being a lot more relaxed about it in a good way. I’m making the most of every chance. I’m 29 at the moment and I’m in my 11th season with Kerry. I can’t be around forever so I’m just making the most of what I have at the moment.”
The Renard native has prior experience of meeting Tipperary on Munster final afternoon — he captained Kerry to provincial U21 glory at Tipperary’s expense in Ardfinnan eight years ago — and rubbished the suggestion that Kerry won’t need to raise their game to the levels that would have been required were Cork the visitors to Killarney.
Anyway, he hardly has time to be thinking of the opposition when these new arrivals into the Kingdom camp are bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘competition for places’ — Young had championship debutant Brian Ó Beaglaoich in front of him last time out against Clare.
“It gets you so tuned in on what you’re doing. There’s a good edge to it when it’s that competitive. It really keeps you on your toes and that is helping everybody across the pitch. Young, fresh players coming in with nothing to fear and putting real pressure on other players across different angles all over the pitch is exciting. Fellas are out of their minds for it.
“I can remember when I was their age coming into the panel and you had no fear, you trusted your instincts and you just went for it.
“Time doesn’t be long going.”
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