The Big Interview - Duncan Casey: 'It will take time to get up to speed. But I am good to go'
Ruptured pec muscle stalled hooker's climb to top of the tree, but he's ready to start again
A lot has changed at Munster since Duncan Casey left the playing field injured early in the current season, and began his long road to recovery.
It's nearly 19 weeks since he ripped his left pectoral muscle in their Champions Cup clash with Treviso, and at the time, on-field events at the province were on a high.
It was their opening European fixture of the season, and Casey drove over for Munster's fourth try as they secured a crucial bonus-point win over Treviso at Thomond Park.
It was the perfect birthday present for the 25-year-old Carrignavar hooker, but he was blissfully unaware of the damage he had just done to his chest. As innocuous as the incident was when he suffered the blow, he knew that something just wasn't right.
Casey continued to play on but a couple of scrums later he called it a day, and even afterwards there was no sign that he had a serious injury. It was only when the scan results came back that the Shannon clubman began to come to terms with things.
"It wasn't painful or anything like that, which meant I was even more surprised when I found out what the scale of the damage was. I just thought there was something wrong with my jersey, I thought it was wrapped around my arm. It felt a bit loose.
"It happened when I was scoring a try at the back of a maul. I was getting held up by one of their lads. My left side rolled up the back of CJ's leg. When I grounded the ball there was a bit of a jerking movement and that was it. There was about 70 minutes gone and the longer I played on, the worse it got. I did a scrum and it felt weak.
"And when another scrum was called I just took myself out of the game, I knew something was wrong. But afterwards we were under the impression that it wasn't that bad.
"When I went for the scan on the Monday morning, the radiologist said it looked like it was ruptured but she had to wait for the consultant to read it. She looked at the scan and pointed where the damage was. It didn't look good for me.
"So I had an idea, but I was still half-hoping that it was something minor. I got a phone call from Shea, our physio, the following day to say that it was fully ruptured and I had to have surgery.
"It was a big blow. But I had been a bit prepared for it the day before. It wasn't completely shocking to hear. In the greater scheme of things it's always a blow to find out you are going to be out for a particular length of time.
"I had major injuries before but they came at better times, I had done my shoulder in 2014. That happened in May so I only missed two or three games and was ready to go at the start of the season.
"Other injuries that I have had mid-season, have only been three- to four-week jobs. This is the first time I have missed a whole block of games mid-season."
Casey has played 40 times for Munster and scored five tries, but due to his injury he has had to sit out much of 2015-'16.
He burst on the scene two seasons ago and caught the eye with some excellent performances. It was more of the same last year when he was again on top form and this term he wanted to put his best foot forward as he looked to challenge Mike Sherry for the chief Munster hooking slot.
But with the injury, Casey has slipped behind Sherry and Niall Scannell, who has gone from strength to strength in his absence, and he knows he has a lot of work to do to get himself back to where he once was.
"It is the reality that you are going to be worried about fellas knocking you down the pecking order when you are injured. If someone goes out someone else has to come in. You are always conscious of that.
"To see the lads play well I wouldn't say has made it any more difficult. Mike has played well since he came back from injury. Niall has got a lot of game time under his belt. He is there completely on merit.
"I wouldn't say it makes it more difficult but it would be the realisation of something that you would have been apprehensive of when you are coming through."
Casey had to bide his time when he was given the terrible prognosis. But he still had the opportunity to improve on certain aspects of his game and physically he is a more rounded athlete. "I probably didn't get as much time to work on rugby stuff as I would have liked. The rehab was a bit temperamental between week eight and 14 so that hampered things. But from a physical point of view, I got a lot of brilliant work done.
"I have some ongoing issues that I needed to focus on. Any time you get a big setback like this, the first thing you should do is look how you can capitalise on the window.
"I have had a severe lack of strength in my core and that has been an ongoing issue. I have been able to do four hours a week for the last 15 or 16 weeks which is a lot of time to spend on one body part.
"I'm just looking to get a few sessions under my belt now. I am fit to play but it's just a case of getting the rustiness out.
"Just getting time on the pitch, and getting plenty of contact done. It will take a bit of time to get up to speed, but I'm more or less good to go."