Tristan Sharp: Tears all round as Eoghan ends long rehab
From a personal point of view, it will be a hugely proud moment to see Eoghan Masterson lining out for Connacht tonight. As senior strength and conditioning coach, a lot of my work centres around working directly with the RTP (return to play) group so I've spent a hell of a lot of time with Eoghan over the last 12 months.
At times, I think I was spending more time with Eoghan than I was my wife Cara! I've seen first-hand all the work - literally the blood, sweat and tears - that he put in every day to get to this moment so I won't lie, it will be emotional to see him run out at the Sportsground.
As well as Eoghan, there are so many guys coming back in to the mix and I'm just so delighted for them.
Bundee Aki was back last week and did well but we also have the likes of Andrew Browne, Eoin Griffin, Darragh Leader and Josh Rowland back in contention now.
A few of them will work their way back with some AIL action and you'd expect to see them back in a Connacht jersey this season.
I guess with Eoghan, the seriousness of the injury and the length of rehab time he had makes it a bit of a special case.
Away to Zebre in February last year, Eoghan suffered a severe knee injury - leaving him with a ruptured ACL, ruptured PCL, ruptured LCL, ruptured popliteus, grade-two tear of the MCL and deep damage to the meniscus in his left knee. Following his surgeries, he was in a brace for 13 weeks, which is extremely challenging for a guy who weights 110 kilos.
When he came out of the brace he had to learn to walk again, so from my side of things, we started with a lot of upper body strength to keep him ticking over.
Then came the big day when he was due to squat in the gym for the first time. He got under the bar and smashed it and we never really looked back in terms of his progress.
We re-introduced him to running which was another big challenge. We focused on nice simple running mechanics and he also did a good bit of work in the pool and on the anti-gravity treadmill.
From there, we developed more positional stuff. Given that he's a key jumper in the lineout, we looked at re-introducing him to jumps - two foot, single leg, turning jumps and landing on different surfaces. We took him up to the gymnastics centre in Renmore, where it's all spring floor and trampolines.
It got to the exciting bit when he ran on to the pitch to join full training for the first time and he got a round of applause from all the players.
There was a lot of respect there for the work that he had done to get back and it was a really nice moment for him and all of us really.
For his last rehab run before he got back playing, we brought him in on a weekend and really tried to stimulate a game environment in terms of conditioning.
That's where I threw the kitchen sink at him - everything from bags to shields, down-ups, running, push-and-shoves. I remember his last run on his last rep, I shouted 'give it everything Eoghan' and afterwards he just burst in to tears.
I had to walk away myself and concentrate on collecting all the cones and polls so he wouldn't see me crying.
I think it was just an emotional release having finally come through all the work over such a long period of time. It really was a massive journey for all of us.
I'd say 99.9pc of his recovery was down to his attitude and his desire to get back playing rugby for Connacht. He never let himself get disheartened. Players like him are the reason why I got into this line of work, and the biggest reward will be seeing him back playing tonight.
I have a lot of respect for the injured players. They are the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave. The work they do away from the S&C, like keeping up to date with all the analysis and plays, takes a lot of heart.
This is my second season with Connacht and I am loving it. After moving from Belfast and spending ten years working in Australia, I thought it would be hard to come back.
But the people here are fantastic and the work that goes on behind the scenes make it a special place to work. Like everyone, I'm looking forward to the game tonight and a strong finish to the season.