Cooney sees light at the end of the tunnel as he battles back from double injury blow
Published 04/07/2015 | 02:30
That Galway have reached a fourth Leinster final without last year's stand-out performer is a credit to the depth of talent in the county.
Conor Cooney was seen as one of the only bright spots from a bleak season as the young St Thomas' forward finally climbed out of the shadows to display his talents.
His 2-29 in four championship outings left him as Galway's top scorer, but his all round form, work rate and skill-set meant he was one of the first names pencilled in by manager Anthony Cunningham.
Less than 12 months on Cooney is wondering how he can possibly force his way back into the starting side. Seven of those months have been spent recovering from or receiving treatment for a foot that he has now broken twice, but at the minute Cooney is happy to be taking his first tentative steps in training.
"It's not too bad now, it is coming on. I have started back doing a bit of running and side-to-side work. I was only able to do straight lines for a few weeks but I started doing side-to-side and weaving and arcing runs," said 22-year-old Cooney.
"You just have to reach a pain barrier - if it is sore you have to step back and not do so much. It is not too bad, there has been no pain or anything so hopefully it is healing well.
"The most frustrating thing is that when lads are playing so well and it is going so well you are not a part of it and you would like to be. Especially when they are back to winning ways and beating teams.
"But if I only come back and put pressure on lads for places and don't get on, I am still doing something, so it's not too bad."
Before the 2002 World Cup not too many people could have distinguished their metatarsal from their elbow, but David Beckham's broken foot ensured an education in osteology for all.
Cooney - a national school teacher in his home parish in Peterswell - knows his foot inside out at this stage and he is prepared to pay special heed to avoid a recurrence.
He will have to wear a special carbon fibre orthotic support in his boot as well as extensive strapping in the future, but it's a small sacrifice after the double blow.
"We had a training camp down in UL and we were on an astro-turf pitch. I went to turn left and I just felt a pop. I knew something was wrong then and went down and got a scan the next day and it was broken.
"I was in a cast for six or seven weeks and got back then towards the end of April. I played a challenge game in Ballinasloe and broke it again with the exact same movement. I had to go up to Santry to get it repaired. Johnny McKenna was the consultant I saw and he put a screw into it.
"I am tipping away just keeping my touch in really. I can't really go back into full-blown training yet. I haven't stepped back into drills yet. The danger is that it could go again. It just kind of controlling it as much as possible and doing as much as I can that way."
The physical agony of injury is always tough for players, but the pain of watching on from the fringes hurts the most. Cooney has yet to play for Galway since last summer's championship exit to Tipperary and his club action after that gave him little satisfaction either.
All-Ireland senior club champions in 2013, St Thomas' only avoided relegation to intermediate with a play-off victory over Liam Mellows, so Cooney's frustration at the dearth of hurling is understandable.
Right through it all Cooney says Cunningham has been a great help. He has encouraged him to take his time, make it back to full fitness and hit the home straight of the season with a gallop.
"Anthony has been very good. He was telling me to keep going with the fitness stuff and he makes sure I have everything I need. He's been ringing me then to make sure I was alright and to see how I was getting on. He was brilliant, he was top-class.
"Last year I had a good year so it was very disappointing in that regard. I felt I got settled into it a bit more and I was working towards getting a bit of work done over the Christmas and it just went wrong then in January.
"Yeah, it was very disappointing and when you see how well the lads are going then, it is such a good team there is every chance of getting something out of this year, so really disappointing."
In his absence, Cunningham has punted on youth again and the gamble has paid off. Cathal Mannion is already one of the sharpest performers in the championship as his hat-trick against Dublin attests, Jason Flynn and Jonathan Glynn are beginning to see their roles become a little clearer, while the same focus on youth at the back has reaped rewards.
"The lads are going well without me though. I don't think there is any fear there, any inferiority complex or anything like that. I would be very confident going into Sunday's game," said Cooney.
"I don't think the Kilkenny backs are as well settled as they have been in previous years. With the forwards we have and the way they are going, I think they will be well able to exploit them and get a bit of space and open them up.
"You have to contain the likes of Richie Hogan and TJ Reid but the lads will be able for them. I would be confident yeah, quietly confident, that we'll do well."