MUNSTER and Ireland second row Paul O’Connell has refused to set a deadline on his return to competitive rugby.
The former Lions captain has been sidelined by an injury nightmare since the end of the Six Nations Championships, missing out on the latter stages of the Heineken Cup, Magners League and the summer tour to New Zealand and Australia.
Though he insists he is on the road to recovery, the Limerick man yesterday wouldn’t be drawn as to when he will feature in the opening games of Munster’s season or the November internationals. By Christmas he says, almost certainly, judging by “the way I’m going, the way I’m moving, the progress I’m making week on week.”
When pressed on a possible return date he responded: “This is like the conversation I’d been having with my physio where I was trying to get a timeframe from out of them, and that went on for four months.
“Now it’s just week by week. I am taking the training a step further every week but making sure not to upset the injury. I’m swimming and doing weights. I hadn’t been able to lift any weights until two weeks ago, but I’m back doing that now again, trying to put on a bit of weight again.”
But he admitted that he had yet to return to contact work on the training paddock.
O’Connell, speaking at the launch of Munster’s new adidas away kit, revealed that a bone infection around the groin area was responsible for his worrying lay-off.
“It’s from an infection I got in my pubic symphysis, which is tied to the pubic bone. Once you have an infection in the bone it’s a long healing process.”
He recalled: “It wasn’t even an injury, which was the most frustrating part of it. I was fit all through the Six Nations — even after the Scotland game I felt fine, though I felt I had a niggle for a week or two before that. It was nothing too serious, you get plenty of niggles during the course of a season that you play through and train through. But by Wednesday of that week I was at the stage where I knew — this was actually going to stop me from training.”
He admitted that it was a difficult problem to diagnose, explaining: “No-one has an injury where the first thing a doctor thinks is that it’s an infection, especially if it’s what you think is a muscular injury at the time.”
He added: “It was only when I stopped doing any rehab or any physio or any treatment at all, and I was getting scans week on week and they were getting worse, that they knew – the only thing it could be was an infection.”
At that stage then, the real treatment began, and even now, four months on, he’s still not entirely in the clear.
“In fairness to them (medical team), after about four days they felt it was an infection, even though there was no signals, and they put me on antibiotics straight away.
“Unfortunately the antibiotics I went on didn’t get it. It rumbled on and turned out to be a very bad infection which had been building up over a period of time.
“Once we started treating it with IV antibiotics my acute symptoms started healing, though it did take a very long period. I’m still on oral antibiotics, until August 8, to clear everything out. That will finally get rid of the infection.
“After that it’s a question of the inflammation from the infection moving away and the bone strengthening up again — the bone breaks down and weakens a little so you’ve got to build that up again.
“That’s the process, and there’s not a whole lot you can do to accelerate that.”
Apart from the frustration of dealing with the injury itself, one thing caused O’Connell huge annoyance during the healing process — the Irish rumour mill.
“I get annoyed at them — I just don’t understand how some people can come up with these rumours, or why they come up with them. The rumour mill in Ireland is just... I suppose you’d have to be in the spotlight to realise how bad it is. “When I was getting the treatment I’d have been in and out of the hospital a lot, allowed out during the day – I’d have been wary of my diet so I’d prefer to eat at home. People would see you coming and going, and I suppose I’d lost a bit of weight, so they’d have been making up stories.”
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