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Limerick Hurler Took Unusual Inspiration From Sonny Bill Williams While Injured

Limerick Hurler Took Unusual Inspiration From Sonny Bill Williams While Injured
By PJ Browne Updated

Kevin Downes heard of Bernard Brogan's recent injury woe and was gutted for the Dublin footballer. He knows the road that's ahead for the five-time All-Ireland winner.

"The cruciate is a fairly lonely road," Downes told Balls ahead of this weekend's AIB All-Ireland Club Hurling Championship final.

"It's difficult, a lot of rehab, a lot of work on your own. I was working with my physio there, Donnacha Ryan.

"You'd have your exercise to do and you might be doing it on the side of the field and the boys are out doing their hurling session."

It was July 2016 when Downes tore his cruciate knee ligament while playing in a club football game for Na Piarsaigh. Less than a year later, around April or May last year, he made his comeback.

This weekend, he will lineout for his club against Cuala in the All-Ireland final. The road he's traveled to get there - the hours of physio work and rehab - makes him appreciate the honour even more.

Initially - as surely most players would in the scenario - Downes felt self-pity. It didn't last long.

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I remember fairly soon after, just kind of getting to the stage - obviously you feel sorry for yourself after, you're cruciate is after going - but soon enough I got Droogie (Darragh Droog) on board and Joe O'Connor, the strength and conditioning coach with Limerick.

I had the two of them on board, Donnacha Ryan is my physio, James Ryan is my doctor and Ray Moran is my surgeon in Santry.

I said to myself, 'Look, I've the best of people looking after me. I've the best of care so let's snap out of this and let's get going to work.'

The 27-year-old became tunnel visioned. It wasn't just about rehabbing the injury, he also wanted to remain fit.

"I saw a video of Sonny Bill Williams, the All Black. He had a torn Achilles or something but he had a video up, he was on a rowing machine but he had the bad leg taped onto a skateboard.

"I sent it onto Darragh Droog, our strength and conditioning coach and said 'What do you think?' He said, 'Yeah come in the next morning'."

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"I was inside in Delta Altitude Centre [a gym] doing that taped up to the skateboard. There was a spinning class going on in the rest of the room. I could see them all looking at me, 'What is this? What is this clown at?'

"I suppose at that stage, you'd be mad to do anything to just get a bit of sweat up to feel normal again to get back doing a bit of training.

"I did a few of them alright. It wasn't plain sailing either, the feckin' tape would be coming off the skateboard and you'd have to reset it."

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Downes took inspiration from others who had been through the same injury. Clare's Podge Collins and Limerick teammate Seamus Hickey are two he cites.

I met up with Seamie Hickey who came back within seven months. Seamie is kind of supreme athlete so he was a great guideline.

There's plenty of examples out there. Podge Collins is only over there in Cratloe. He's another good example to look at.

Seamie came back, in his season back, and won an All-Star. Seamie is a serious machine of an athlete as it is. He could recover from nearly anything, I'd say.

It's kind of a lonely road and there are times when you'd be trying to do a certain exercise, stretch your quad or do whatever and it's just not happening and you're saying, 'Will this ever come back around?'

To have those people to hop things off, it's just great and it gives you something to focus on and a bit of light at the end of the tunnel.

Just as Hickey and Collins provided him with some guidance, Downes did so with a club teammate, Pat Gleeson.

The need take the recovery week-by-week through the setting of little goals was an outlook which he found most beneficial. He was glad to instill that in Gleeson.

"While it's a nine or ten-month injury, it's nearly week-by-week. At one stage you'd be going to two or three sessions of physio in a week, but you'd have a goal for each week nearly, or definitely every fortnight.

"It could be a tiny little goal, but it's very much like that. You can say when you're sitting on your bed after the operation, 'I wonder when I'll be back sprinting.' It's stage by stage.

"Pat Gleeson in the club did it maybe seven or eight months after me, so I was delighted to be able to pass that onto him and say, 'Don't have a plan for nine months down the road, have a plan for three or four weeks. Achieve that and tick that off and move on.'

"That's what you have to do so it was great to be able to pass that on to him."

Kevin Downes of Na Piarsaigh is pictured ahead of the AIB GAA All-Ireland Senior Hurling Club Championship Final taking place at Croke Park on Saturday, 17th of March where the Limerick club will face Dublin’s Cuala. For exclusive content and behind the scenes action throughout the AIB GAA & Camogie Club Championships follow AIB GAA on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat and www.aib.ie/gaa. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

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