You get the sense that if there was a test case for the ideal way to deal with a cruciate ligament tear, Seamus Hickey would make the perfect candidate.
The Limerick hurler was stretchered off after just 15 minutes of last year’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat by Clare, meaning a season that had been generating so much excitement and anticipation ended on a disastrous collective and personal note.
Clare went on to win the All-Ireland final, beating a Cork side Limerick had swatted aside to claim the Munster crown. While the Shannonsiders were left to reflect on what might have been, Hickey was left to face a long struggle and lonely mornings in the gym before work.
“I’m feeling good now. We had club championship last week and I came through 60 minutes there. When it gets to this stage it’s about getting confidence, and confidence in your knee comes from minutes.
“You can practise twisting and turning all you like but if the ball breaks one way in a game it’s reactive stuff, so that’s what I’m dealing with now.”
Hickey describes with relish stepping back on to the field. “You’re just buzzing. I got a few minutes at the end of a challenge match there recently and I was running around a bit headless. I was just so excited to be back. Being out of something for so long you develop a new appreciation for it. My first thought coming on to the field was ‘I need to get on the ball, get on the ball.’
“I really have worked my backside off to get back in the space of time that I’ve got back in. I’ve a lot of confidence in the physios who’ve treated me. Barry Heffernan and Mark Van Drumpt have been so good to me. I’ve spent more time rehabbing my injury than I have on my PhD so my supervisor won’t like to hear that!”
He says he sought advice from others who’ve suffered the same injuries, including Denis Moloney who, ironically, had a part to play in Hickey’s debut for Limerick.
“I suppose being who I am I’d be strong on that side. As soon as it happened it was just a challenge you pick up and you attack it.
“Denis Moloney was on the Limerick panel and he did it in 2006. I made my debut coming on replacing him because he tore his cruciate. He was brilliant. He texted me straight away when it happened and he was good to talk to about it.”
He admits, though, the cliché about a lonely road is true.
“You have to be driven to go to the gym at seven o’clock before work to do single leg squats when there isn’t a sinner there. But I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t love it. There’s something in me that loves a challenge, that loves work and loves being part of the sporting side anyway.”
That optimism and drive informs Hickey’s views not just on his own injury and his comeback, but on the recent trouble in Limerick when Donal O’Grady resigned.
“From a player’s perspective, and I’m not being flippant about it, it doesn’t matter that much when you’ve a set-up that’s got very strong people in it anyway and was coached that way under the previous regime to be very strong in who we are. It’s disappointing to have a distraction and that’s what it is. I can’t do anything about it so I just move on.”
He certainly doesn’t believe in any notion about a “galvanising” effect on the squad.
“It’s something people say but if you’re not a tight group and you need something like this to bring you together I personally would say: ‘Where was the set-up before?’ I think we’re a tight group anyway.
“TJ [Ryan] is a man we all have a lot of respect for. A fella who again, from his previous participation in 2011, players have a lot of time for. He’s a familiar voice who we’re comfortable with and he’s a very positive guy. We’re very happy with who we have anyway so we just have to drive on.”
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