Patrick Donnellan felt new life coursing through the Clare team before the 2013 All-Ireland winning captain suffered an anterior cruciate ligament tear in January.
Life on the outside looking in is frustrating for the O’Callaghans Mills clubman but he’s making the best of it, attending every training session and offering help where it’s needed.
Donnellan will be 31 later this month but he’s ruled out any hopes of a dramatic return to the fray before the season’s end.
It’s 14 weeks since Donnellan was operated on by Waterford-based knee specialist Tadhg O’Sullivan but the recent birth of his baby daughter Aoibhinn has brought some perspective to his life.
If there was any silver lining in Donnellan’s cloud, it was that he was able to attend hospital appointments with his wife Edel and help out around the house in preparation for Aoibhinn’s arrival.
The proud father smiled: “It was great, it takes a little bit of the focus off the fact you can’t train.
“It’s been great, a crazy couple of weeks building up to it.
“She’s not sleeping too bad I suppose. I’m getting a little bit less sleep, probably lucky that I’m injured!
“Myself and Edel are delighted, things are going great so far.”
In Donnellan’s absence, Cian Dillon has taken over the sweeper role and acquitted himself remarkably well.
But Clare’s defensive strength in depth has been tested as Donnellan is not the only big name player unavailable for next Sunday’s Munster SHC semi-final against Waterford.
Conor Ryan and David McInerney are also out, players who, like Donnellan, can operate in the half-back line.
But Clare are rolling with the punches and stormed to a first National League title since 1978 last month, against Sunday’s opponents.
And Donnellan recalls: “This year, with the new set-up and new coaches in the backroom team, it kind of felt like a new group and a new team.
“And that has benefitted everyone, given everyone a new lease of life and a bit of pep in the step for everyone, especially now with the nice summer months coming in when the real hurling starts, it gives you that bit of reinvigoration when it is needed.”
Another three months down the line will, if everything goes according to plan, see Donnellan back running.
That brings him into August and presuming that Clare are still involved in the championship, the concluding stages of the championship.
But a philosophical Donnellan doesn’t believe he’ll see action again this year.
He explained: “I’d be coming back in a time when the lads are at their peak, maybe getting up to an All-Ireland semi-final or final.
“For me, coming in having very little training done and to get up to their pace in two or three weeks, is probably not realistic.
“I’ve very little control over how the ligament heals itself. All I can do is look after the rehab and if my body is good then, I’ll be in a position to come back.”
Donnellan opted for O’Sullivan and his hamstring graft approach, which differs to Santry-based Ray Moran, who prefers a patella graft, when choosing his surgeon.
The rehabilitation involved can be slow and tedious but that’s just how it has to be, Donnellan explains, as the ligament is dead until three months post-surgery.
In the meantime, Donnellan’s been working hard to build up the muscles around his knee, so his body is in a position to come back strong and he’ll be in a position to train.
Right from the start, Clare boss Davy Fitzgerald ensured Donnellan hasn’t been isolated and that’s been good for the player’s mental state.
“It was such a sudden injury, went from having a good pre-season, training well and everything going well with the new additions to the backroom team and everything positive to within the space of a week, my year was over,” Donnellan reflects.
“I was just conscious that I didn’t fall off a cliff at the end of it and go from doing loads of things to doing nothing. It was brilliant that I could come back and within a week or two, I was back in training, just putting down a few cones, picking up balls or whatever it may be.
From now, I can do my bits in the gym and my bit on the field before training, still have an involvement which is definitely good for me.”
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