Donnellan makes peace with season-ending injury
Ex-captain still playing a part, writes Colm Keys
Every night Pat Donnellan has come to Clare training and done what he has been able to do.
Whether it has been gathering balls and putting down cones initially, to making a contribution at a team meeting, he wanted to feel like he was still part of it.
Eventually, as his knee continued to repair following cruciate ligament surgery for a rupture sustained in mid-January, that involvement graduated to gym work and movement out on the field.
If there is frustration at the reality that his year is over he hides it well and insists he has made his "peace" with it. The birth of his baby daughter Aoibhinn in recent weeks has helped to give him a new focus.
"Wallowing in self-pity is no good for anyone," he says. "I am lucky that I can still be part of it.
"It's what I always say when people ask me what does a fella do when he is No 40 on the panel and he knows that he won't play. It is always better to be looking out than looking in.
"Not being part of it on match day and not being able to play is a massive thing. But I made my peace with that when I got injured and I didn't get too down.
Clare's 2013 All-Ireland winning captain turned awkwardly on his knee during a challenge with All-Ireland club champions to be, Na Piarsaigh.
The support from management and playing colleagues has, he says, got him further down the road to recovery than he ordinarily might have been.
"The minute I got it the lads were on the phone, Fitzy and the management team to make sure you weren't getting isolated or to make sure you wouldn't be getting left out of things," he says.
"I probably don't realise how important it is because I have it. If I didn't have it, maybe I might be in a much worse position.
"I went from having a good pre-season, training well and everything going well with the new additions to the backroom team and everything positive to, within the space of a week, my year being over.
"I was just conscious that I didn't fall off a cliff at the end of it and go from doing loads of things to doing nothing.
"It frustrates you. There are definitely days when you are down, but once you are in the group, once I get to training and get onto a team bus and go to the game, you buy into what is going on."
Donnellan had the ligament reconstructed by hamstring tendon graft, the preferred procedure of the surgeon Tadhg O'Sullivan in Waterford as opposed to a patellar tendon graft, which his colleague Podge Collins underwent in Santry Sports Clinic.
He has firmly ruled out any involvement even for a potential All-Ireland final in three months' time, six-and-a-half months on from his operation.
"I'd be coming back in a time when the lads are at their peak, maybe getting up to an All-Ireland semi-final or final," he says. "For me, coming in having very little training done and to get up to their pace in two or three weeks, is probably not realistic. I took that out of my head from the very start."
He admits it's hard to reconcile that it's 18 years since Clare won a Munster hurling title.
"I am surprised in one way but in another way, they are hard to come by. I am playing 10 years now and we have come so far in those 10 years, in terms of our preparation and the way we are organised.
"And when you are looking back on things, maybe there was a reason we weren't as competitive back in those days because we weren't as prepared as we should have been - not for the lack of effort.
"Maybe we just weren't at the level we needed to be, even before we stepped out on the field."
The age of graduation has also changed dramatically.
"It is unusual for those players to step up so quickly," says Donnellan. "In years gone by, senior hurling was reserved for senior players whereas now, senior hurling is a young man's game and is directly related a lot more to minors and U-21s."
In his absence, Cian Dillon has taken to the sweeping role effectively but Donnellan says the system in place allows for anyone to step in.
"Cian is so well suited to that role. The way we train and the way we prepare, everyone is clued in to the roles we have to play," he says. "Some fellas are better suited to it, Cian and Davy Mac (McInerney), but the way things are laid out, it is fairly seamless that if one lad is out another can step in."