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Monday 11 December 2017

O'Gara can ACL curse -

Ciaran's message of hope for stricken Dub

CIARAN KILKENNY knows, better than most of his Sky Blue colleagues, what Eoghan O'Gara is going through right now.

The season is cranking up, games coming thick and fast, while the promise of a long, hot summer in Croke Park beckons.

Then your knee buckles, and your anterior cruciate ligament snaps. Game over, ball burst ... season kaput.

"I'm devastated for him personally," said Kilkenny yesterday. "And his brother (Killian) actually did his ankle in the game - he was flying for the Dublin U21s as well. It's tough on the family, but I suppose these things happen in sport."

O'Gara fell prey to the 'Curse of the Cruciate' playing for Templeogue Synge Street on Sunday. The dreaded diagnosis - ACL rupture - was confirmed on Monday night.

Twelve months ago, slightly earlier in this madcap month of March, a similar statement was issued by the same Dublin management to confirm that Kilkenny's season was over.

For arguably the most celebrated graduate of Dublin's recent underage revolution, it's a case of been there, torn that, worn out the gym machines on the road back to fitness.

But while it invariably rules you out for a year, give or take, full recoveries from a torn cruciate are increasingly the norm.

"I wouldn't wish that injury on anyone, but you look at the likes of Colm O'Neill - he has come back from it three times. So, all I can do is wish Eoghan a speedy recovery. If he puts the work in he'll be back, better than ever," promised Kilkenny, speaking at the AIG Insurance launch of a new app designed to reward safe drivers with reduced premiums.

Whereas the duo could (theoretically) have been vying for the same forward position this summer, Kilkenny will hope his own performances offer solace to O'Gara (pictured right) as he moves through the painstaking phases of rehab.

YOUNGER

There is a difference - Kilkenny was 20 when he tore his ACL against Kildare, O'Gara is now 29. However, the younger man doesn't believe age makes the recovery more difficult.

"He's plenty of time still left to play. If he puts the work in, he'll be back for next year, simple as that," he maintained.

Harking back to his own trauma, the Castleknock clubman was philosophical in one sense (having played so much football and hurling with so many teams, up through the ranks) while still struggling with the reality there would be no more ball for the rest of the year.

Missing last year's All-Ireland U21 run was the biggest wrench of all. This was the group with whom he'd grown up, from U13, with Dessie Farrell as their perennial mentor; with whom he had lost a minor final to Tipperary.

Even on crutches, he was "knocking around the place with the lads" and delighted when they went all the way ... but he still wanted to be out there, with them, on the pitch.

"You're really in a privileged position to be playing for your county, and you'd even miss being around the dressing-room - the small little things," he explained.

"But I learned a lot from it. I helped out with a few teams in the college (St Pat's Drumcondra) and got to develop different aspects of my life as well. I got to go to Zambia with a charity ... going to Zambia gives you a good perspective on life, and how little they have over there and how privileged we are over here."

Kilkenny's first game back with the Dublin seniors - as a 19th minute sub against Donegal - came 11 months after his original injury. If there's such a thing as a rebaptism of fire, this was it ... but both player and team survived the test. He started the next three Division One games and will hope to make that four on the bounce, against Derry in Croke Park this Saturday night (7.0).

That hot-and-heavy Donegal clash was "a great game to get back for", he insisted. "I had played six or seven games before that so I was all right mentally ... it was end-to-end stuff, a really competitive game and a good bit of bite in it.

"The first few games, you are kind of mindful a little bit going up for a high ball or something like that. But as soon as you burst your first tackle or go up for a high ball or somebody hits you a belt or whatever, then you are flying."

The curious thing is that O'Gara's unfortunate mishap could, potentially, pave the way for a Kilkenny relocation - from half-forward to the full-forward role in which he flourished at underage level.

"I played centre-back for my club at the weekend - I liked that," he demurred, with a neat sidestep. "Being honest I'd play corner-back, in goals, full-forward, wherever I'm needed for the team."

Just being able to play is enough.

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