Sean St Ledger might be assured of a permanent place in the records as one of only five Irish players to score at the European Championship finals — even if his header in the 3-1 defeat to Croatia was, in the context of an otherwise miserable Euro 2012 for Ireland, the very definition of a consolation goal.
But five years on, and now acutely conscious he’s in danger of becoming one of the game’s forgotten men, the veteran defender is anxious to let football people know this saint is very much alive: battered, yes, but unbowed.
“I’m 32 and I’ve been in America so everyone I see, it’s ‘oh, are you retired?’ And I’m, like, ‘not officially’.”
St Ledger allows himself a small smile but the injury which ended his time at Colorado Rapids and threatened to terminate his career has been anything but a laughing matter. When surgery in April of last year failed to rectify recurring problems with his right knee, it seemed as if he was facing the point of no return.
“I tried to come back and train but my knee was just basically blowing up,” he explains. “It was hurting when I was kicking a ball. So I went back to the surgeon and he said there was not much else they could do unless I wanted a meniscus transplant. Which puts you out for, like, a year and also, he said, gives you only a 20% chance of playing again. I did think about (retiring) because the surgeon also said I’d have to consider that later on in life I was probably going to need a knee replacement. So I thought about it but then... I miss football so much.”
With Colorado having released him, St Ledger made the decision, at his own expense, to give himself into the hands of renowned German specialist Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt. That was in October last year when he couldn’t pass the simple test of jumping a hurdle. But, now, as he ends months of rehab — involving a non- surgical programme of exercises augmented by quarterly injections to protect the knee and keep it lubricated — St Ledger is able to report with a grin: “I’ve been jumping over hurdles a lot.”
The next challenge is to find a club willing to take a chance on him — not excluding one in the League of Ireland.
“Actually, when Dave Robertson was at Sligo, he rang me about going there but I was literally just starting my rehab programme and it was the wrong timing more than anything,” St Ledger reveals. “But I’m open to anything. I know I’ve to prove myself again.
“The guy looking after me says I’m about six weeks away. It should be good timing for pre-season. And if I can get through a pre-season, then hopefully someone will take a punt on me. If not, I’ll go play part-time.”
Speaking at Aviva Stadium — at the launch of the FAI’s new sponsorship deal with menswear brand Benetti — St Ledger takes in the familiar surroundings and admits that, improbable as it may seem, he retains an even bigger ambition.
“I’d give up everything just for one second out there. But everyone who has come in —Shane Duffy, Ciarán Clark —has been fantastic. And so it would be difficult to get back in. But I have to try and be positive. I’ve done a lot of strengthening work, a lot of core. So maybe I’ll come back a bit different. I might come back worse — some might say I couldn’t be any worse!”
St Ledger has maintained his involvement in football by scouting for Leicester City and doing his B Licence Coaching Badge with the FAI. But nothing, he confesses, beats kicking a ball.
“The worst feeling is knowing that it’s coming to an end,” he reflects. “I remember when I was young, the older professionals used to say it doesn’t last long. It goes like that. That what it feels like now. I can’t believe I’ve been playing for 12 years. Now I’m the one saying to younger lads: ‘work hard because this career goes in an instant’.”
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