On that long and grinding road to recovery
John Tennyson admits he could miss whole season after cruciate setback
John Tennyson is the possessor of Kilkenny hurling's second most famous knee.
He likes it that way. When you suffer much the same injury at much the same time as the great Henry Shefflin, you know that outside the walls -- or the "sanctity", as Brian Cody often refers to it as -- of the Kilkenny dressing-room there's only going to be one knee that's talked about, one knee that demands regular recuperative bulletins.
So he's quite content, quite comfortable to be the 'other knee' in Kilkenny. That's the natural order of things.
Tennyson is just over three and a half months into his recuperation cycle from an operation in Waterford to repair a ruptured cruciate.
The same injury, the same surgeon, much the same rehabilitation, just less fuss.
By Tennyson's reckoning, however, his recovery is well behind Shefflin's.
He had the operation much later than Shefflin -- well over a month, because of Carrickshock's presence in a county final in late October.
But his progress has not been nearly as smooth. An infection in early December, almost a month after surgery, left him in hospital for a week in Waterford and has put him back by six to eight weeks.
"Essentially I had another operation to clean out the wound. It got infected, I was on an IV drip and spent a week in hospital. I wasn't able to do anything. They had to wash out the wound. It was painful and it has probably set me back by anything up to two months," he said.
He's not fixated on a return date. He can't be. But he knows that if he's not back at full tilt by early July at the latest the inter-county season, at least, will probably have escaped him.
"I'm not fixed on any date. There is a chance that I might not hurl at all for Kilkenny this year. I'm prepared for that. My recovery has been slow. Henry would be a good bit ahead of me but his circumstances are different," he acknowledges.
For Tennyson, dealing with the sight of Shefflin being helped off in the early stages of the All-Ireland final presented as stern a mental test as any hurler has faced in recent times.
When Shefflin pulled up after 11 minutes -- and was gone two minutes later -- the focus instantly switched to the survival of Tennyson for the next 57 minutes.
"I did ask myself briefly if I'd be next. Would I suffer the same fate? But you quickly put it out of your head when the next ball comes down on you.
"Going into the game we were committed to not letting the injuries hold us back and that's the way I played it. I forgot about the possibility of suffering a recurrence. You can put it out of your mind.
Tennyson had done the damage in training 10 days before the All-Ireland semi-final against Cork, a game he subsequently missed. For those 10 days Tennyson's thoughts turned to surgery and rehabilitation, nothing else.
It was only when Shefflin severed his cruciate in the Cork game that thoughts turned to a near miracle recovery.
The pair's travels to Ger Hartmann's clinic in Limerick for intensive treatment over the following two weeks became one of the stories of the summer, but Tennyson admits that he made his initial journey heavy with scepticism.
"I was sceptical. I wasn't sure if it could work. But Ger Hartmann and Ger Keane gave us great confidence.
"They worked us hard. It was extremely tough going -- with four-hour sessions.
"But the goal of playing in an All-Ireland final was worth everything.
"I know people will say that we didn't win it and I waited another two months to have surgery.
"If I had committed to surgery straight away I'd be close to returning now, all going well.
"But I wouldn't regret that. You cherish every All-Ireland final and county final you play in. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I gave it everything. I felt it was an achievement to be ready for an All-Ireland final in that time."
Oddly, it was the second time that Tennyson and Shefflin had found themselves recovering from cruciate ligament damage at the same time.
In 2007, Shefflin limped out of the All-Ireland final against Limerick; two weeks later Tennyson did similar damage in a club game.
"It was ironic alright that we found ourselves in the same situation again. But we're lucky that the care for players in Kilkenny is so good. We really are lucky. There is always a physio available and if you want advice there are two or three outlets to go to.
"If you're a club player you often have to make the running yourself on it, make the appointments and so on.
"That said I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a lonely experience to becoming back from this injury, especially a second time. When you have setbacks it gets you down."
Tennyson, now 26 and a member of the Kilkenny squad for six years, feels time is on his side.
"I won't be rushing back -- I have a few years left in me yet," he said.
"I'll do things right and if I don't make it back in time for this year I won't panic about it."