'There were times when I wondered would I ever play again'
Fit-again Ireland second-row eager to return to peak form after career-threatening injury
Published 04/09/2015 | 02:30
He was 201 days out of action but Dave Foley has come back a more rounded player after an innocuous wrist injury that threatened his career.
The 27-year-old was at the peak of his powers: it was his 12th Munster appearance of the season when he took to the field at Thomond Park against Sale in the Champions Cup.
The Clonmel native had enjoyed a dream Ireland debut, winning the man of the match award against Georgia in the Guinness Series, and he looked set to have a massive season ahead of him in a World Cup year.
But things didn't go to plan and gradually it all fell to pieces.
That day against Sale, the adrenaline assured him everything was fine but as he headed off the field at half-time with his side 13-10 up, little did he know he wouldn't play any further part in the 2014-15 campaign.
"I dislocated it four or five times in that game. It came out a few times and happened early on so I played up until half-time," said Foley.
"The damage was done at that stage but I didn't know. It wasn't really hurting so I just continued to play through it.
"It was a ligament that had ruptured in my left wrist and I dislocated it a few times so it was actually something quite small. Then I ended up getting surgery on it straight away.
"I was up in the Irish squad at the time. It happened on the Sunday and then that evening we were with the squad for the Six Nations and I was on the road back to Limerick by Monday afternoon.
"I had seen the surgeon and he told me I wasn't going to play in the Six Nations."
The news that he wouldn't add to his two Ireland caps last spring was a major blow.
"It was difficult, I was playing decent in November for Ireland and I was probably a shoo-in, so it was a bitter pill to swallow," he says.
Foley had to watch from the sidelines as Munster reached a Pro12 final and Ireland retained the Six Nations title.
Foley continued to recuperate behind the scenes, from a knock that should have only kept him out for three months.
"The ligament was set, but the bones were pulling back from where they needed to be for the first while," he explains.
"We ended up leaving the pin in for two and a half months longer than it needed to be and luckily enough it ended up healing itself after the surgery, but it did put things into perspective."
Foley is a former schoolmate of fellow Munster and Ireland star Tommy O'Donnell, who is now in the early stages of his own recovery. The 28-year-old dislocated his hip against Wales last month and Foley can empathise with the flanker.
After seven months of pain and anguish Foley made his re-appearance in the pre-season defeat to Grenoble at Thomond Park.
It wasn't the ideal way to resume his Munster career but Foley is just delighted that he has been given another opportunity.
"It has really put things in perspective for me. I got the first taste of rugby against Grenoble and it was tough, I was dragging myself around for the first 40 minutes," he says.
"There were times with this injury where I wondered whether I would ever get back on the pitch again, so it was more of a relief than anything to get back playing.
"I didn't think I was going to be as off the mark as I was because I did feel I wasn't as sharp but that is to be expected after being off for seven months.
"I have been injured before but it is only now when I have been injured again and I think back it did take me a little while to get that match sharpness back that time.
"Fitness is a big thing for me anyway because if I can't get around the pitch I am not really that much good. That's probably the biggest thing for me, is getting match fit and match sharp.
"I spent a lot of time in the weights room and I had a bit of groin pain from being off my feet for so long when I came back. So I didn't get to do a huge amount of the conditioning on-field work.
"But I feel much more confident now and cannot wait to get out into the Pro12 again."
It all kicks off for Munster tomorrow at home to Benetton Treviso, just as the Champions Cup will on November 14 - Munster will have seven rounds of Pro12 action under their belt at that stage.
And if Foley doesn't get a call up to join Joe Schmidt in England and Wales, he wants to lead this team in the absence of the great Paul O'Connell.
"I don't think anybody is going to be able to replace Paul. I don't think it's possible," he says.
"However I am a bit older this year and I'm one of the more senior players at this stage so it is important that I step up and become more of a leader.
"I want to be in the best condition to play really well for the first game of the season. You just never what kind of a team will show up with Treviso.
"I know it is at home but when we have been on the road against them we have found it quite tough over the last few years. It won't be easy against them in Cork and I want to step up and have a big game."