Michael Rice admits he has proven people wrong by returning to play for Kilkenny.
The 29-year-old’s career was feared to be over both in and out of the county following a nasty hand injury picked up in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final win against Tipperary.
However, Sunday’s Division 1 final victory over the same opposition was his third start since coming back into the team and he put the cherry on the cake with the last point of the game.
Yet such was the extent of the injury — one of Rice’s fingers was broken in seven places and he had suffered severe tendon damage which required surgery — that it had been suggested he might never play again.
“Yeah, I heard a few different rumours that I was finished all right,” smiled the Carrickshock man. “Yeah, the last few matches and playing the league semi-final and final were great for me just as a boost in confidence.
“Two months ago, I was full sure I was going to drive on with this anyway, even though people were saying different things. But I was more than happy to be driving on with it.”
The recuperation was a long one for Rice, but one he completed dutifully with the help of those around him, including new wife Cathy, who he married in late December.
“Initially, I didn’t think it was too bad, but obviously I found out the full extent of it. It was a long old road but I got great support from family and friends and that.
“In one way, missing the club last year was tough, but then for two months there was nothing going on anyway so it wasn’t the worst thing in the world and I could do my own thing, training and running.
“When the matches came this year you wanted to get back and wanted to get out there. When matches are going on and you’re not involved that’s the toughest part.”
As far as Rice is concerned, the matter with Padraic Maher, whose first-half swing caused the injury, is now dead.
Speaking a month after the incident, the Kilkenny man expressed irritation that his opponent had not made contact with him.
Maher has since stressed he didn’t intentionally hurt Rice and the injured party has no interest in fanning the flames further.
“I’ve moved on anyway — I’ve moved on from that. There are more important things to drive on with. You can’t hold a grudge, it’s a time to move on.”
Kilkenny players credit Rice with a speech at half time that saw the team inflict an unmerciful display of powerful and precise hurling against Tipperary in the second half.
He was just happy to play some part. “Overall, you just get a buzz out of being involved in a group of players. Whether I talked or didn’t talk, it doesn’t really matter.”
Rice is most humble about his recovery from injury compared to Henry Shefflin’s return to fitness after foot surgery in December.
“You talk about my injury — that man has gone through way more than me. I’ve only done it one, he’s done it three or four times,” he said.
“He is a role model to all of us and to any lad whether he’s fit or not in how he goes about his work.”
Rice acknowledges Kilkenny will go into their Leinster campaign, which begins away to Offaly on June 9, conscious of what happened against Galway last year, but not overly so.
“Brian [Cody] always emphasises to us that each game has to be taken on its own merits and you can’t look past that.
“All we’re looking at is the first game and we’re not looking a bit past that. Maybe we might be a bit more aware because of the trimming we got against Galway, but overall I think you’re always that bit wary.”
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