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between a 'lock and a hard place

AT some stage in Croke Park tomorrow, James Woodlock and Paudie O'Sullivan might cross paths. If they do and there's a flicker of recognition or an empathetic acknowledgement, you'll know why.

The shorthand is that both players' careers looked to be finished by leg breaks for which the word 'horrific' was used but really does no justice.

The devil, as ever, is in the detail.

In October 2009, Woodlock collided awkwardly and accidentally with county 
team-mate Pádraic Maher in the Tipperary SHC final.

He broke both the tibia and fibia in his right leg, about four inches below the knee.

"One was shoved down beside the other because I had all my weight on it," he recalls, "So it broke in seven places."

It was March of 2010 before he could walk again.

Operation

"When I went for my first operation, I was told I would never hurl again," Woodlock admits.

"It's the same injury Cork's Paudie O'Sullivan suffered, and I was chatting to him last year when he broke his leg.

"I couldn't do anything for him and nobody could do anything for me at the time, you either come back yourself or you won't come back.

"You have to put in the work yourself, there's no physio or anyone like that going to bring you back."

With these kind of injuries, the psychological side of recovery can be almost more important that the physical.

Certainly, no doctor or physio would have recommended sort of the courses of rehabilitation into which Woodlock flung himself.

He remembers cycling 10 miles during the winter, with the broken leg tied to the pedal with his shoelace.

Initial, just for balance but eventually he embarked on incessant hill climbs to combat muscle wastage.

"I had years of building up the muscle and it was gone within three days of breaking the leg," he says now.

"It just faded away, it was just bone, it took me a long time to get it back right, it caused problems with my other leg because all the weight was on that.

"(Initially) I was six weeks on a couch, I couldn't go anywhere, I couldn't put the leg down. I had constant pain in it and it just took a long time. I still have a lot of stuff in the leg, that's never going to come out.

"It's in the past and that's where I'll leave it.

"If you thought it was ever going to happen again you wouldn't go out and play, you wouldn't go out and cycle a bike, let alone ride a horse.

"I have a pin down the middle of my leg from my knee to the ankle and I have two screws across. They're just like the screws into a door, they're nearly out through the skin. You just put up with it."

"When you're on a morphine drip at home and you can't go anywhere, what do you do?

"But once that was all off I used go to the gym at six o'clock in 
the morning ... before anyone else was there. When the cleaners would open up I'd be there.

"My two friends would bring me in, and I did jogging in the pool.

"It was all upper body work and I was twice as big as I am now. Obviously, when you go back running you lose it all again.

"I was double the size. I was a stone-and-a-half heavier."

Getting back into the team under Declan Ryan was another task.

Permanent

He missed all of 2010 and most of 2011 but after winning a county title with Drom-Inch in the latter season, thought he deserved a better crack at reclaiming a permanent spot.

Now? He's back in the team and the leg works. Simple as.

Win tomorrow and he's back in an All-Ireland final too.

"It's tough going. It's for ourselves, it's for the supporters, it's for everyone," Woodlock adds.

"When we're in there we just talk about ourselves the whole time. To get the best out of ourselves."


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