Laying on the Croke Park turf 21 minutes into December's All-Ireland final, Waterford's Tadhg de Búrca knew what was ahead of him.
It wasn't to be another 50 minutes of repelling Limerick's Terminators. The Deise centre-back had just heard a pop, and knew, for the second time in 15 months, that he had injured his cruciate ligament.
"I was weak after it," he said at the launch of PwC's celebration of the 50th anniversary of the All-Stars.
"They weren't great thoughts going through the head, knowing you are going through that nine-month process again, even longer. A lot of rehab to be done, and hard work. The first thoughts weren’t great. We weren’t going too well in the match either. Limerick were always those few points ahead in the game. That made it worse again.
"An All-Ireland final is one of the biggest days of your career. At the back of your mind, you are thinking, you’re after doing your cruciate and you have a long few months ahead."
De Búrca sat in the stand and watched the remainder of the game as Limerick ran out 11-point winners. It wasn't until the following Wednesday that his injury was confirmed as an ACL tear.
15 June 2021; Waterford Hurler Tadhg de Búrca in attendance at the launch of PwC's celebration of the 50th anniversary of the All-Stars at Croke Park in Dublin. Ireland's most prestigious sports awards were first presented in 1971. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
The 26-year-old - who has no involvement with the Waterford panel this season - is now five-and-a-half months into the rehab process. A return to the hurling field in September or October with his club Clashmore-Kinsalebeg is the aim.
"Back jogging the last week," he says. "That’s a start, two or three weeks of that. All straight line running these days and hopefully progress from that.
"I did my cruciate in the same knee twice. The first they took a graph from my patella tendon. This time it is more the hamstring. That needs to be built up, it’s a little weak. So yeah, same injury, but slightly different with the rehab.
"Sometimes you are fine with the rehab, some days you question the knee: Is it where it is supposed to be? Sometimes the mental challenge can be difficult enough, but this year is different to the last time in 2019 where I was trying to rush back for inter-county. This year, that kind of pressure is off. I know I won’t make inter-county, I’ll just try to be getting back for the club in maybe September, October. The pressure to get back isn’t as much as it was the last time around."
In a year disrupted by Covid-19, Liam Cahill - in his first term as manager - managed to rouse Waterford from an underwhelming few seasons to reach the All-Ireland final. In 2021, it looks as though they have continued to improve.
"I suppose people can ask me that at the end of the year," says De Búrca with a smile when asked if it's tough to watch the team developing without him.
"Obviously you want to be part of the panel but I wouldn't begrudge anyone. Hopefully they do their best this year and I'll be shouting for them.
"It’s been strange, but it has only been league games so far and some of them haven’t been on TV, so I wasn’t missing out on too much, but come championship, it will probably be hard alright."
Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile