14 months after falling in a heap during Tipperary's final game of the 2018 Munster Championship, Brendan Maher was a key player for his county as they claimed their first All-Ireland title since 2016.
Against Clare on June 10th of last year, Maher tore the anterior cruciate ligament of his right knee. He returned to have one of his best ever seasons in a Tipp jersey.
"I always believed I could get back, but in saying that I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times when you’d have doubts in your head," said Maher, who on Friday night was named the Gaelic Writers' Association's Hurling Personality of the Year, sponsored by Sky Sports.
You’d have some tough days. I stuck to the recovery process – there would be times when you were making good progress but then there would be days when the knee would get sore, and you’d find yourself thinking ‘the week before it was better than it is now'. So you’d end up and wondering what’s wrong. So you’d have doubts every so often.
But I was very fortunate with the support network I had around me in Tipperary, the likes of Dr Brendan Murphy, Paddy O’Brien (physio) and Cairbre Ó Cairealláin (strength and conditioning coach).
They were brilliant at putting your mind at ease. When you’d start worrying that something wasn’t right, that something was off, they’d look at it by telling you it was normal, that it was all part of the recovery process. So when it might flare up or you were finding it hard, it was great to have them around.
Maher said that the toughest time of his recovery was a year ago when he found himself struggling for motivation as he trained on his own.
"The first few weeks after the operation were pretty basic – extending the leg, getting a range of motion and so on," he said.
"Then it was back to jogging and building strength, that’s when it got tough. Around this time last year was probably the hardest period.
"I found training on my own a major struggle. When you are away from the group and training alone, I found it hard. There were some sessions where I wouldn’t finish them. When you don’t finish a session and you feel shit.
"Mentally that was very difficult, there was about a two-week period where that was happening, so I decided I had to do something.
"I rang our physio Paddy O’Brien and told him I was struggling with training on my own. I asked him if he would supervise my sessions, just to have somebody there and he then suggested training with Seamie [Callanan], who was coming back from a bad injury. So we trained away together in a local gym and that was a major help for me.
"Around the end of October then or start of November I met Cairbre, our new strength and conditioning coach. He brought a group of us in training then, other lads coming back from injuries and pre-season. We were in Thurles and that was a real lift because you felt you were kind of back involved again with the group."
On February 13th, he had his six-month recovery review with surgeon Ray Moran. It went well and two days later he took part in a training game. A month later, he came on against in a league quarter-final defeat for Tipp against Dublin.
"I was playing centre back in that training game I remember being really rusty, dropping balls and my striking was off. Michael Breen ran into me early on, so there was no easing back.
"I was very nervous beforehand, I went on with about 20 minutes left [against Dublin] and it felt like starting all over again.
"Luckily the first puck-out that came my way I caught it above my man, that settled me and got me back into it straight away.
"The result was disappointing, we lost to Dublin that day, but personally I was delighted to be back playing and to have come through the last 20 minutes or so.
"What I decided to do was put 100 per cent trust in the process. I followed the plan and as long as I was meeting the targets along the way, I was happy.
"My six month review tests were good so once the data was telling me there is as much strength in the right leg as the left leg, and that my biomechanics were good, then I just trusted what I was being told and fully bought into it.
"I was being told the leg will support me, so it was just about going out there then and testing it."
Picture credit: Sportsfile