Four years ago on an August evening at Croke Park, Michael Meehan produced a dazzling performance that yielded 10 points against Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
Top defenders such as Marc Ó Sé and Tom O’Sullivan, and a combination of both, were not able to hold him in the monsoon conditions that cascaded down on Jones Road.
His, and Galway’s future was full of expectation and hope after that defeat to Jack O’Connor’s men.
Instead the intervening four years have been a painful time for both, on an off the field. Galway’s managerial merry-go-round has seen them slump further and further down gaelic football’s pecking order while Meehan’s very future in the game has been cast in doubt by a series of serious injuries.
“All 2010 and 2011 were complete washouts. I hurt my knee against Kerry in the league in March 2010 and it has been tough since then. I had only got back, when my ankle (compressed ligaments) went in the championship against Sligo and then I dislocated my shoulder against Meath in the qualifiers. It has been hard going. I did not play with my club for almost two and a half years and that was very hard for them. And for me”.
Even now, speculation is rife in the county that he will never get back to full-fitness. Meehan though is keen for the football obit writers to hold off for another while yet.
“Well, the experts told me that I would never play again after the ankle surgery. That was a huge blow initially. The verdict was not positive at all on my chances of togging out at any level. And the second opinion seemed to validate that. They was a possibility of more surgery. But that is not something I wish to contemplate. You are looking at another three months in cast and another year gone by and it was still only a ‘might work’.
But Meehan was not prepared to accept his career was over.
“By my nature I will always try and move on. It was disheartening, but I did not want to admit it was all over. If you accept or admit something like that, you may start to believe it. I always wanted to say ‘that’s fine, but we’ll see’. A thing will beat you if you don’t have that approach.
“I said to myself ‘maybe I cannot play, but perhaps I could do something small’. I was not prepared to accept my career was over.
“We have a top class medical team and I am availing of anything I can. Even to the extent of changing my diet to avoid foods that may aid inflammation. Thankfully things are starting to work. It is very slow but at least I am making incremental progress. I played two half games with my club and I played a half against Laois in a challenge two weeks ago. It is limited. But I am happy that I am improving and I am getting sharper. I am not training as hard as I would like to, but I have to be smart and I have to maximise what I can do.”
And it wasn’t just the physical pain Meehan had to battle. The emotional agony of being unable to train and play also hit hard.
“The hardest part was when I was injured and I was still going to all the training sessions and attending all the league games. I travelled to the likes of Derry and Down as an injured player and in hindsight that was a bad idea. This year Alan (Mulholland) told me to stay away until I was feeling fresh.”
Not the Caltra man is concentrating on small steps and targets. He explained: “I stayed doing my own thing until I felt I should come back and the gradual process seems to have worked better. My goals are very short term. I am just trying to put a good 40 or 50 minutes of competitive football together, twice a week. I don’t look past the next training session because the problem is that after training and for a few days after my ankle is stiff and sore. There is a lot to be done by me to recuperate every time I tog out and I am taking it day by day. That is what may work for me. You have to take the rough with the smooth and I am just hoping that this approach will work”.
As well as doing everything he can to try and get back on the field with Galway, Meehan has also had a change of career away from football
“I worked in finance for five years with DHKN in Galway and there was the good and the bad in those years. In the back of my head though, I felt that I would like a change. Over the years I have had a lot of exposure with under-age teams and with coaching. I always enjoyed that and so I went back last September to do the H.Dip. I have really enjoyed my first year of teaching, Maths, Business and Economics. Hopefully something will come up next September. It is something I want to continue at and really enjoy.”
Meehan will be togged out in Hyde Park on Sunday and he is hopeful of seeing a Galway victory and perhaps seeing a few minutes of action.
“It has been going well enough from a Galway perspective. We could have been promoted to Division One and some of the younger players got more experience playing at senior inter-county level. Roscommon are looking forward to us going down to Hyde Park and will rightly fancy their chances. They were Connacht champions two years ago and thy have some very talented young players coming through. We know that we have it all to do down there, but we are looking forward to the contest. Every championship has to be enjoyed and each team and player has to try to get as much as they can out of them. You never know when they will stop coming around. Sport is unpredictable.”
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