Sunday 22 October 2017

'It's surreal when you get back. You're so focused on playing well'

Year out with injury has whetted No 8's appetite and the Laois native is keen for game-time again

Eoghan Masterson is hoping to put his injury, which saw him spend much of the last 12 months on sideline, behind him. Photo: Sportsfile
Eoghan Masterson is hoping to put his injury, which saw him spend much of the last 12 months on sideline, behind him. Photo: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

He ruptured his ACL, PCL, and LCL, had a Grade 2 tear on his MCL, ruptured his popliteus and damaged his meniscus, all in one shocking collision 12 months ago, but Eoghan Masterson's return to rugby is complete.

The 23-year-old No 8 feared for his career after a clash with Zebre's Kelly Haimona in the 24th minute of Connacht's bonus-point victory on February 20, 2016.

Masterson had played 17 games and scored a try for Connacht, as their season began to pick up pace. The Portlaoise native was handed the captain's armband in pre-season away to Castres, and he had begun to mould into a colossal presence in the Connacht back-row.

But all of a sudden there was serious doubts about the future of Masterson's professional rugby career; however, he was too determined to give up. It took a year, but he returned to action for Connacht Eagles in their B&I Cup clash with Cornish Pirates last month and with a couple of games for Galwegians under his belt, he is in much better form.

"It was a really big injury. When it first happened I was told it was a freak of a thing, not many people suffer this type of an injury and when they do they don't come back playing. People hang up the boots for less than that," says Masterson.

"It was a shock to the system and I was in a bad way when I heard the scan results, prognosis and diagnosis. The main focus was to get back playing. When you get back out there it's surreal. You are so focused on playing well, but still you're thinking, what if that happened again, I would have to go through all of that again.

"Those things are always in the back of your mind but having got through the first three games, I feel all of those fears have been put to bed. The knee has been great, hopefully I can get back playing well."

Masterson made his debut for Connacht in 2013-'14, and has made 34 appearances and scored four tries since then.

The former Emerging Ireland international has been a towering presence for Connacht ever since he burst on the scene, and with his younger brother Sean (19) now in the sub-academy, Eoghan could well line out with his sibling in the future.

But Masterson knows he is incredibly lucky to have a future in the game, after all of the pain and suffering he went through last year.

"I didn't really know what I had injured at the time. I never had a knee injury. It all happened so quickly. They made a line-break and we were scrambling in D. A hole opened up and I was rushing across to try and stop Kelly Haimona from scoring a try. But he just put his head down, I was just trying to stop and he dove straight my knee.

"Straight away I knew something was wrong, I wasn't sure was it a broken leg or something. But then Gareth Coughlan and John O'Donnell, the doctor, came down I was nice and calm and just said: 'This doesn't feel good'. There was not a chance I was going to be able to walk on this and it started to swell.

Barrier

"Then I was rushed to Parma Hospital and I got X-rays. They told me that I had nothing broken, but with the language barrier, the doctors started telling me cruciate, cruciate.

"I was just thinking that's the season done and I was sickened. We were on such a roll and it was a nightmare. By the next day I was just thinking I had done my ACL, I will be out for the rest of the season but I will do some good rehab.

"I viewed it as an extended pre-season, I will be back by September, bigger and stronger. I viewed it as a good opportunity.

"I came back to Galway and got the MRI done. The scan results came back and John O'Donnell was the first one to ring me. He said I had done a bit of damage."

It was a dreadful injury that denied Masterson the opportunity to play his part in a Challenge Cup quarter-final against Grenoble, a Pro12 semi-final win over Glasgow, and Connacht's history-making Grand Final victory over inter-provincial rivals Leinster.

"I remember learning to walk again. I was walking up and down the gym floor with Gareth, it was heel to toe. And then I was squatting with the bar again, and Tristan took over.

"Since I came back I was able to hit PBs. He took it that far, PBs I wouldn't be able to hit before I got injured. So I am eternally grateful to those lads.

"I had the easy job, I was unbelievably motivated and determined. Especially the season we had, watching the lads beat Leinster, Munster and Glasgow and win the Pro12 final.

"All I ever wanted to do was to play rugby at the highest level. Tristan Sharp and Gareth made it easy for me, I just had to give it everything I had."

Masterson also missed out on Connacht's Champions Cup run this season, but now he wants to make that right towards the end of 2016-'17.

Connacht are out of Europe, but with at least four games to come in the Pro12 during the Six Nations window, Pat Lam's side have ample opportunity to move back up the league from eighth position.

A top-six finish is the minimum goal for the reigning Pro12 champions, and Masterson hopes he can help make that happen.

"It was a big goal of mine, when I started my rehab I was hoping I would get back for the Champions Cup games but it wasn't possible. It was the same as watching the lads win the league last year.

"It is tough watching Toulouse roll into town and not be available to play, and watching Wasps come here and not be part of that. I am delighted the lads did so well, disappointed they didn't reach the knockout stages.

"But I have never played in the Champions Cup and it is a goal of mine to get playing, contribute towards the team and get us there against next season."

Irish Independent

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