Being out for 18 months is bad enough, but it seemed like it was worse for Donnacha Ryan. The towering second row's comeback is complete. The Munster lock will make his first start for Ireland after 29 months.
While it seems like a long time, Ryan must be happy that he has returned at all. Any injury that keeps you out for that long must bring doubts about whether you can recover at all. When the witty folks from Limerick are asking Ryan if he's enjoying retirement - you know that it must have been playing on his mind.
For his part, Ryan isn't looking to dwell on it, or for people to make a big deal about his return. He'd prefer to focus on the game against Wales, and ultimately his battle with Dan Tuohy for presumably the fourth and final second row spot available in Joe Schmidt's 31-man squad (via Limerick Leader):
One thing I did have to learn is massive perspective, asking simple questions like what makes you happy and be grateful for what you have.
He must have watched Damien Varley struggling with a similar foot injury, before ultimately retiring and wonder if he was going to suffer the same fate:
When people come up to you and start saying; ‘How are you enjoying retirement’, they were the sort of questions you are dealing with. That’s the reality. It is a difficult tightrope you are walking in that situation. You don’t know what the future holds.
It's nearly a cliche for people to sprout the new perspective line when they return from an injury, but Ryan's story about meeting a Paralympian in the gym would certainly give you that:
I went into the gym after I started coming back having gotten my sesamoid (bone in foot) taken out. Ironically enough there was a guy in there who was training for the Paralympics and he had no use of his legs, so I was happy to have my feet.
Ryan ended up playing seven games for Munster on his return at the back end of last season - with five of those coming as starts. He identifies April 5th - when he was named in his second Munster squad of the season - as the date that he knew he was back:
April 5, that’s basically it, recently enough, chatting to physios, seeing how things were going to go, things hanging on edge, made a decision and that’s what happened.
From there, Ryan started in five of Munster's next six games - including four 80 minute appearances in four weeks. Any doubts about retirement are fully in the past, and Ryan can look forward to filling the large boots of Paul O'Connell for Munster and Ireland.