Injury permanent fact of life now for Galway ace but so is touch of class
If time allowed him, Michael Meehan would have made his way to Blackrock at one end of Salthill promenade yesterday to have the sea water soothe his aching body.
As much as he could over the last two days, Meehan would have been as light on his feet as his lifestyle allows him to be. Icing is another part of a ritual that is now designed merely to "get him by". He won't think about training until at least tomorrow night.
All that after just 25 minutes of championship football on Sunday -- a target, he admits, that he has never worked harder to achieve.
Galway football had much to cheer about at Hyde Park, but the most audible sound greeted the arrival of Meehan some 46 minutes into their Connacht quarter-final with Roscommon. And for that, those of maroon hue really cleared their throat.
Meehan (right) has been through much over the last 26 months since twisting his knee awkwardly in the early stages of a league match against Kerry at Pearse Stadium.
He sustained the injury as he scored the goal to put the home side ahead against the then All-Ireland champions after just 20 minutes and was subsequently taken off. In his absence, Galway didn't score again for another 34 minutes and finished the day 10 points adrift.
It began a sequence of well documented injuries that have tested his resilience as a footballer, with the loss of cartilage in his left ankle a career-threatening one. And it also coincided with Galway setting off into freefall as a football force, until recent stability was established.
So his return, after being advised that his career was in serious jeopardy, has further fuelled the enthusiasm already sparked by a biggest ever championship victory over Roscommon.
From Joe Bergin to Padraic Joyce they all name-checked Meehan afterwards, acknowledging the effort he had put in to get to where he is now.
Galway need him. Football needs him. He showed his class with his floated pass over the top for Danny Cummins to set up Paul Conroy's fourth point, his link with Joyce for his own point from play and for Gary Sice's goal underlined their collective class. But for Meehan to succeed, the Caltra sharpshooter knows management of the ankle is a firm requirement. It's a condition he knows is not going to improve. All he can hope for is to build up a better tolerance.
"It's been a long road. I'm not even there yet. It's a continuous thing for me minding this. There's club championship next weekend, so I have to plan now to see what I can and cannot do to leave me in the best position to play there," he said.
"I'll be off my feet completely. It'll involve icing and I might get into the sea in Blackrock. I'll be doing very little until the middle of the week. I was involved for only 25 minutes, so it won't be as bad. I limit the time I spend on my ankle in training and I don't spend any more than an hour (from) start to finish.
"A full match is beyond me at the minute at championship pace, but the club championship (with Caltra) is on next weekend and I haven't played a full match for them yet, so I'll be looking to do that. I'm hoping as the summer wears on that I'll build up a tolerance."
Last year he found himself popping painkillers, sometimes twice a day, to quell the throbbing pain in his ankle. However, better management and understanding has alleviated that pressure now.
"I still have to take painkillers for match day. There was a time there, like last summer, when it was crazy. I didn't like what I was doing, having to take them a couple of times a day every day. That's not good long term. I'm happy that I don't have to do that at this stage," he said.
He acknowledges that playing on represents a gamble -- but one he was always prepared to take.
"The professional opinions I got weren't that confident things would work out. They were very guarded in what they were telling me, but they never said 'don't try it'. So that was enough for me to see what I could knock out of it," he said.
"I'm training more than I ever did, but it's not running around the pitch training -- it's rehab, it's stretching, it's working with the physio or rehab coach. That side to it is huge for me now."
His optimum workload in the week is two sessions with the squad and in recent weeks, he has been reaching that target.
"I'm happy that preparations have gone well for me over the last number of weeks, in that I was able to get two sessions a week over a length of time. I was confident that I could play a part against Roscommon," he said.
Joyce's contribution shouldn't be overlooked either and the impact from both players off the bench in the last third of a game could be one of the critical elements to Alan Mulholland's rebuilding project in the weeks and months ahead. At this stage, it is the role perhaps best suited to them.
Meehan sees a changed approach benefiting all involved under the former All-Ireland-winning minor and U-21 manager.
"He's brought in a new way of doing things," Meehan said. "He's brought a lot of players through with him from the U-21s, where he had a lot of success. That 3-15 (against Roscommon) is the best scoring we've done in a long, long time."
"I'm sure Roscommon won't be happy with their side of things, but we can only concentrate on ourselves. We're thrilled that we've got off to that start."
Meehan, still only 27, even managed to convert a free off his troubled left foot, which was another added bonus. "That's part of my game. It's all duck or no dinner, whatever way you want to put it," he added. "I can't practise as much as I used to be able to. I am hoping that I can get back to the standard that I was at in time."
Just having him back at all will do Galway fine for now.