Sunday 28 May 2017

Tommy O'Donnell: 'I was very relieved my career wasn't ended'

Munster and Ireland flanker Tommy O’Donnell has spoken about the injury hell that cruelly ruined his World Cup hopes (Photo: Sportsfile)
Munster and Ireland flanker Tommy O’Donnell has spoken about the injury hell that cruelly ruined his World Cup hopes (Photo: Sportsfile)
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

"It wasn't pretty. To put it into words; it was bad."

For anyone who was in the Millennium Stadium that afternoon in August, or indeed for anyone who was watching on TV, it didn't take a medical expert to figure out that Tommy O'Donnell had suffered a very serious injury.

After a brilliant 75-minute shift, one that propelled him to the forefront of Joe Schmidt's mind just weeks before he was due to name his World Cup squad, O'Donnell's dreams were shattered.

A dislocated hip ruled out him out of the tournament but it was his long-term future that he feared for most.

When the initial searing pain eventually subsided, the 28-year-old was forced to rethink his goals for what was a crucial time in his career.

O'Donnell will have to wait another four years to hopefully make a first appearance at a World Cup but he also knew that he was in the final year of his contract and a long-term injury was the last thing he needed.

Having tied his future to Munster earlier this month for at least the next three years, it was a massive vote of confidence for a player whom his province see as a key figure.

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"The relief is going to be huge when you're potentially facing a career ending injury," O'Donnell explains of his initial reaction.

"If you're telling me you're never playing rugby again, or you're going to get back on the pitch in nine months, I'm going to take nine months. If you tell me I'm going to be back on the pitch in seven months, I'm going to take seven months.

"So it's very easy to say, 'Okay, I missed out on the World Cup, but I'm still going to be able to play rugby. I'm still going to be able to walk around'.

"Say, I finished rugby and was left with a bad hip - there's a lot worse things in life, so I was very happy to get back playing, and that's why it was easy to deal with it mentally."

It takes a particularly strong-minded character to get through such a serious injury with that kind of mindset but O'Donnell has come out the other side and returned to action on Sunday, a couple of months ahead of schedule.

There have been some dark days over the last few months and none more so than watching Ireland stumble at yet another World Cup quarter-final.

Watching the Pumas tear Ireland asunder was extremely uncomfortable viewing for supporters but for a player who would almost certainly have been involved that day if fit, it was an even more bitter pill for O'Donnell to swallow.

"When you're possibly facing six to eight months out, there's no point replaying every game," he maintains.

"The only game that I really struggled with was probably the Argentinian game where the lads were trying hard but things weren't going our way and obviously with the injuries. That's that one game where you felt, 'God, I could have been in there'.

"I don't know if I would have even made the squad. Everyone can say it now, 'Oh you would have made it'. That's probably the one game I felt that I could have helped.

"I'm ahead of schedule but you're not going to hit the field at 100pc. Everyone probably has (talked) me up, because I played well.

"Because I got injured in that game, it has become more of a performance than it actually was.

"Everyone is holding me up on this pedestal. The first game was to come back and get the fitness under my belt and not make mistakes."

Given the severity of the injury and indeed, by his own admission, how fortunate O'Donnell turned out to be in long run, he is understandably treading very carefully with his return.

As he recalls the incident in which he dislocated his hip, he admits that he immediately knew it was serious.

"When you have something sticking out the back of your hip and you can't move one leg from the other, you know it's pretty serious.

"It was the worst I've had by far, yeah," O'Donnell says.

"I landed on my knee, right underneath me, probably more than 90 degrees, and two big Welsh lads, they're not small lads, came down on me and probably came down on an angle.

"I'm probably blessed it didn't break, it didn't do any damage to the acetabulum (hip socket). It wasn't in and out straight away but it eventually went back in ok.

"They tried to push it back in, but you can imagine, you've so many muscles around there, everything locked up, your groin, your quad, everything went into spasm, so you're not moving it, especially after a 10-week pre-season, those muscles are strong and especially when they go into spasm, they're not going to budge.

"There was a couple of different types of medication given to me, so I was in la-la land. When I came back I was still in pain.

"There's obviously the 24 hours after the game where it does hit you and you're a bit down in yourself and you have a few moments on your own but after that you just get on with it.

"The support and well wishes were overwhelming.

"They just kept coming for about five or six days after the injury happened. That got me through.

"Even how everyone came together to get me home out of Wales. It wasn't looking like I was going to be able to get a flight.

"One of the bus companies, their owner, he gave us his own private Range Rover so I could be taken to the ferry.

"I got a bunk on the ferry and then I was picked up by my dad over in Rosslare.

"It felt good that everyone was coming together to get me home early."

It's been a long road to get back to where O'Donnell is now but deep down he knows that it is one that could have been much longer and more damaging.

He will continue to ease himself back into the everyday demands but one thing for certain is that Irish rugby is in a better place with a fit and firing Tommy O'Donnell.

Irish Independent

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