Player Diary: Making most of rare time out through injury
It's unusual for me to be injured but while you can't fall behind you have to make best of the break
For the first time in nearly ten years, I had the Christmas week completely off this year. Unfortunately, the Leinster management weren't struck by a sudden pang of conscience. Instead, I was struck, by 130kg plus of French second-row as I foolishly tried to steal a ball at a ruck against Toulon.
The weight hit me, my foot got planted in the ground and I felt a big pop in my hamstring and that was all she wrote. Now I'm looking at a few weeks more on the sidelines in what will probably be my longest spell out in my professional career.
The one bit of luck I had was that it coincided with Christmas week, so I was able to relax without the customary game one or two days after the big day. That didn't mean I could go crazy though. I'm not able to run at the moment, so looking after yourself is key so you don't pork up too much during your lay-off.
For the first week I was unable to do anything, but I'm into rehab mode now. We have an Alter-G Treadmill at Leinster that can adjust to support your body weight but it looks like that'll have to wait until next week. For now, it's the lonely howl of the Watt Bike and upper body weight sessions that awaits me, along with the opportunity to resemble a malformed Popeye who always skipped leg day.
Joking aside, muscle wastage during lay-offs is a concern. We have electro muscular stimulation (EMS) units, which are a distant relation of those belts they advertised on television during the eighties which promised to give you an effortless six pack. Unlike those belts, the EMS units actually work.
They stimulate the muscles through small doses of electric current delivered via gel pads strategically placed on your larger muscle groups. Properly used, they prevent muscle loss during an enforced lay-off, but at the higher settings it can feel like your muscles are trying to rip themselves off due to the force of the contractions.
For the first two weeks, I had four EMS sessions a week to minimise muscle wastage, and hopefully it'll have worked when it comes time to go back to doing lower limb weights.
When you're injured you usually operate on your own schedule, but there's a few of us around so it's nice to have some company even if you wish they weren't there at all. Mick Kearney looks like he's coming to the end of a sustained period out, and I'm very happy for him. He's been working incredibly hard, and recently received our internal 'trainer of the week' award after stellar DEXA (body composition test) results. This despite being out for the guts of nine months!
It's been interesting having the weekends off too. I've tried to use the free time to catch up on some work around the house, but the weather has really militated against that recently. I took my four-year-old son, Kevin, down to the Connacht game for a lads' evening out. The weather was awful, as usual, but luckily we were in behind the subs' bench and were sheltered from the worst of it.
I really have to take my hat off to the fans who sat in the exposed stands for the entire game, in absolutely Baltic conditions. It shows some dedication, and we're very lucky as a team to have a following of that dedication.
Happily they were rewarded with a hard-earned victory against a dogged Connacht side who are flying high in the Pro12 this year. Kevin had a great time - he got to watch the game, got a programme and some chips at half-time, and even got to see the players in the dressing room afterwards where he learned some interesting new words to add to an expanding vocabulary!
It's critical to win the next couple of games before we lose a large chunk of the squad to Six Nations duty. Ospreys have won their last five games, so they're on a good streak at the minute. They've a side loaded with Welsh internationals like Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Biggar and Dan Lydiate. We haven't won over there since 2009 so we know it'll take a big effort if we want to halt that losing streak. If we come away with the four points though, we'll have put ourselves in a very good spot at the halfway stage of the Pro12.