Mahony: It's harder to deal with missing county final than Waterford games
Pauric Mahony has endured a lot this season having been forced to watch Waterford's Championship campaign from the sidelines. But the most telling blow is observing his beloved Ballygunner from afar.
What started as a career-defining season for the free-scoring attacker quickly turned into a nightmare when he suffered a broken shin against Ballyduff Upper.
It came just six days after he played a key role in securing Waterford's third League title, contributing a whopping tally of 1-90 throughout an unbeaten campaign.
Derek McGrath's side were on the crest of a wave and if Hurler of the Year awards were given out in May, Mahony was a prime candidate.
But Lady Luck has a cruel way of bringing one back down to earth and after being air-lifted to hospital, surgery followed, with a plate inserted to support his tibia.
Just over six months later he is well on the road to recovery and hopes to get back jogging soon, but heartbreakingly, Sunday's county final against Tallow comes too soon.
"Days like Sunday are the ones you dream about growing up, and for me, it's been even harder dealing with the injury and not being able to contribute with the club because I know I can have a bigger impact with them," Mahony said.
"It's very tough at the moment but as long as they're winning it gets easier because you're not thinking of how you could make a difference in a certain situation.
"I'm making good progress but it's hard because I can't help the lads, but if we win Sunday I'll be celebrating as much as anyone else.
"I owe a lot to the club over the last 20 years, they've been so good to me. They showed me amazing support after the injury and I couldn't have asked for more."
Missing out on their back-to-back bid, something they haven't achieved since 1997, hurts the 23-year-old but he has full belief in a group who are hungry for more success.
His older brother Philip suffered a similar fate, breaking his leg in spring last year before returning to help revenge their surprise 2013 final defeat to Passage.
Hopes are high that the latest heroes of the famous club, like Philip and Shane O'Sullivan, will help drive the Gunners over the line, especially in his own absence.
"We're a united group and we just want to win every game we play. This group have won three county titles since 2009 but we feel there's more in us," said Mahony.
"Paul Flynn helped me settle in when I was 17 and it's funny now because the likes of Shane (O'Sullivan), Philip and myself are the new leaders of the team and we're the ones helping young lads to settle in."
Ballygunner thumped Tallow 1-19 to 0-6 in the 2011 decider but Mahony expects a totally different proposition this weekend with a wealth of emerging talent on show.
"We edged them by three points in the last group game and they've come a long way since they were in the 2011 final and they have exciting players like Jordan Henley and Ryan Grey, while Thomas Ryan is absolutely flying it," he said.
"They've added serious quality to the side. Their backs are strong with three or four experienced lads who have played county and it's going to be an absolute dogfight."
Much like the pressure of a match-winning free, Mahony has taken the challenge of returning to full fitness in his stride and is already planning for 2016.
The trauma is long gone, replaced by at least five gym visits a week, and with age on his side the WIT student wants to build on the Deise's promising 2015 and ensure they are no flash in the pan.
"I always use visualisation before games with my frees but at the moment I'm strong enough that I don't need it for the injury," he said.
"I've seen great improvements over the last couple of months, I'm hitting all my short-term goals.
"We're already a very long way away from where we were this year. You only have to look at Limerick, they were a puck of the ball away from beating Kilkenny in 2014.
"They couldn't reach those heights this year. We certainly don't want that to happen to us."