Twenty-one months out of rugby was a long, lonely time for Mike Sherry.
In that time, Sherry endured three knee operations and one shoulder surgery, watched rival Damien Varley forced into retirement and then bade farewell to senior second row colleagues Paul O’Connell and Donncha O’Callaghan as they moved onto pastures new.
A lot to take in for sure, but hooker Sherry is glad to be back and has built up from 40 to 60 to 80 minutes of full blown activity over three games that included Munster’s first competitive blow-out of the season, an 18-13 Guinness Pro12 victory over Treviso at Musgrave Park on Saturday.
Naturally he is relieved to be finally playing again. “Yes, there is an element of that, a lot of excitement, there is nervousness but it’s just brilliant to be back. The knee is great, I’ve forgotten about that but the shoulder is a day to day thing, I have to manage it, I’ve had to modify things over 21 months. We do things that don’t aggravate my shoulder even though I get the same things (results).” Sherry has had every reason to feel worried returning to action. His career hinged on the success of the operations and then the long months of rehabilitation.
“Yes, the nervousness was incredible for the first pre-season game,” he admitted. “These games aren’t hard to get up for but they’re going to be physically and mentally incredibly hard. I didn’t know which way it was going to go and I was emotional because (at one stage) I didn’t think I would ever play again.
“To get through the first contact, get through the first few line outs, scrums, etc, that was great.”
Now that he is back in the thick of things, he feels he is lucky compared to others, like Varley, who have been forced to quit the game. “Damien was injured around the same time as me and we would be very good friends, we palled around, I got to know him well. Unfortunately he didn’t win his battle (injury) but he is a smart fella, he has a lot of qualifications and he will do well. But certainly, in my own head, I never gave up even though there were certainly times when I thought it was not going to come right.”
He continued: “I struggled at times, I was 25 or 26, I didn’t know what I wanted to do after rugby, but I had to think. My girlfriend was a very good person to talk to at that time, my family was great as well. I talked to a lot of people, the likes of Varls, Earlsie (Keith Earls), PJ Wilson and others. They were great.
“PJ is a great trainer but a great trainer to talk to as well. I would have had good days and bad days and depending on how the shoulder felt it would dictate my mood, which was unfortunate for my family and my missus.”
Sherry, though, got on with it, moved on to do a degree in Real Estate Management and hopes to start a Masters in February. So, life in the fast lane has got faster. “It’s great, not to be compared when you’re running around the gym on your own, it’s great to be doing the whole thing, stuff that you give out about when you’re in the squad for a few years but for now it’s just a buzz doing anything, really.”
He won’t find it hard to prepare for Sunday’s match with Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium, and he well remembers one hiding he and his side received there a few years ago. “It’s a tough place to go. We’ve done a lot of prep already, we’re back in again Thursday and so we need to get through a bit more work then.”
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