McLaughlin: I thought injury had ended my career
Published 28/08/2015 | 02:30
As Kevin McLaughlin recounts his injury-ravaged last year, the relief in his voice is palpable.
The back-row injured his shoulder against Connacht last December and at one point during his nightmare spell, he thought he would never play rugby again.
Fast-forward eight months and McLaughlin has just been named Leinster captain during the World Cup period and the smile has returned to his face.
Countless hours spent rehabbing led to some dark days for the 30-year-old but he eventually saw light at the end of a seemingly never-ending tunnel.
Like most players returning from injury, the mental aspect can often be tougher than the physical pain it takes to get back to full fitness and it was no different for McLaughlin.
"That last shoulder injury was extremely mentally challenging," he admitted.
"There were times throughout the eight-month period when I thought my career was over and I just couldn't seem myself getting out of it.
"It wasn't getting any better at all. I had all sorts of tests to see what was going on. It was just an extremely slow process and I never had an injury like that where I wasn't making progress.
"It was more a mental challenge than a physical challenge.
"We're very lucky with the medical team we have in Leinster and they worked tirelessly trying different things and eventually I think it was around the end of April when I started to turn a corner and get a bit of strength back.
"I was able to do my rehab exercise properly and I think I took contact properly for the first time at the end of May and was able to hit something without getting pain down my arm.
"I realised then that I actually would play rugby again."
Having had a couple of hernias repaired over the summer, McLaughlin is almost ready for a return to action and he is determined to make the most of the rest of his remaining playing days.
Being on the sidelines for such a lengthy period gave him a new perspective on how short a professional rugby player's career can be and he admitted that it was almost impossible to stop the negative thoughts from creeping into his mindset.
"I had a lot of things going on so the last thing I wanted to do was retire through injury as well," McLaughlin explained.
"You're always hanging on to hope that it will come good, but you have to be thinking to yourself that if this ends now then what's next?
"I think every professional rugby player who gets a bad injury goes through that period where they're questioning what's next. What am I going to do? How am I going to deal with retirement, mentally?
"I did go through that a few times and luckily I'm out the other end now.
"Every opportunity I get now to play I'm going to be unbelievably hungry. I don't want to leave rugby with any regrets, so it's very much a case of whenever you get a chance to play over the next couple of seasons you grab it with both hands."
Now that he is back, McLaughlin is determined to make up for lost time.