Mahony's Deise cameo just a first step on road to recovery
The end of the beginning phase on the road to recovery for Pauric Mahony came when he got the call-up for duty in the 68th minute of Waterford's Allianz Hurling League clash with Galway at Walsh Park on Sunday.
Mahony (23), wearing the No 20 jersey, stepped into a competitive match for the first time since that fateful date, May 9, 2015, when he suffered an horrific leg break playing for Ballygunner against Ballyduff Upper at Dungarvan.
As the home fans in the crowd of 5,029 greeted his arrival on the pitch with heartfelt applause, the game still hung in the balance.
Galway had come from behind to lead by 1-21 to 0-23. Ref Brian Gavin signalled three minutes of added time, so Mahony had just over five minutes to re-acquaint himself with inter-county hurling.
Waterford manager Derek McGrath deserves credit for the decision to bring on the Ballygunner player when the team needed to get something from a match they had dominated at various periods.
As events transpired, it was a win-win for manager and player in that respect.
Mahony got a couple of touches, and the most important was a flick of the sliotair out to wing-back Gavin O'Brien, who launched an exocet of a drive downfield to score a 72nd-minute point from over 80 metres to earn the draw for Waterford.
Psychologically, this was a pivotal moment for Mahony, but he stressed afterwards that the battle for full match fitness is not yet complete.
"It was my first time on the pitch since the day I broke the leg. It was nice to come back in there. Look, I've still a long way to go and a lot of work to do," he said. "We didn't really have a time-frame on it. We were taking it week by week. The surgeon gave me the go-ahead three or four weeks ago to go back into full contact.
"As I said, it's good to be back but it's still a long way to go."
The surgery to repair the damage left him with five screws and a metal rod which extends from his knee to his foot, but the leg has healed.
Now it's all about conditioning mind and body for a return to the fray as Waterford seek to build on last season's memorable National League victory, a League in which Mahony finished joint top scorer.
His first full contact came in a training session some weeks ago and it went well.
"We weren't too long after a hard running drill before it. We went straight into a tackling drill, and from there on, I haven't looked back, but it's going to take a long road to get back," he said.
"I've a lot of work to do on fitness and that, but I'm just delighted to be back on the field and I'm delighted that Derek gave me the opportunity."
The brief cameo brought a degree of relief, and confirmed that a full return to the game he loves is coming closer to reality.
"Just to run out on that field was enough in itself because over the last number of months, you would have doubts whether you'd get back out there," he explained.
"The lads have put a lot of confidence in me too, and the background team, the physios, the trainers, I'll never be able to thank them enough for the work they put in, but there's still a long way to go."
Waterford's opening Munster Championship match against Clare is 11 weeks away. Mahony hopes to return to club action in early May, and then push on to county duty.