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Ex-Dub Cahill's advice for CiaránFOR an inter-county footballer, there is definitely no good time to rupture one of your anterior cruciate ligaments, but, equally, there are worse times than others.

"I would say that, given the choice, you would rather do it earlier in your career rather than later because you're still developing as a player," says Barry Cahill, who, like Ciarán Kilkenny did on Saturday night, suffered the same, perhaps most feared injury amongst elite athletes in his second full year as an inter-county footballer back in 2003.

"Another side to it is, Ciarán is still in college and not in full time employment, so you're able to dedicate yourself to the whole rehab process, which is crucial if you want to get back to the level that you were playing at.

"From my perspective, I was in UCD at the time, so I had the summer and the few months after that to really knuckle down and put in the time that was required."

For the uninitiated, the ACL is one of four ligaments in the knee. It runs through the middle of the joint, joining the thigh bone to the shin bone.

And when it snaps, you can kiss goodbye to roughly a year of whichever sporting pastime you happen to enjoy.

Relative to the size of the actual knee, the anterior ligament is thin and thus susceptible to tear without great force or even physical contact.

A bit like Kilkenny's unfortunate twist while challenging Kildare's Mick O'Grady for the ball close to the Hogan Stand side of the Croke Park pitch on Saturday night, Cahill's rip was totally innocuous.

Four days after Dublin were beaten by Mick O'Dwyer's Laois in the 2003 Leinster SFC, the squad were training at their then home of St David's Grounds in Artane in preparation for an unfamiliar trip to Clones to take on Derry in an All-Ireland qualifier.

In space, Cahill caught a ball and attempted to turn on one foot. His left knee buckled and the immediate pain told him to expect the worst.

Dr Ray Moran, the man synonymous with the treatment of ACL injuries in Ireland, delivered the news that, not only was his cruciate torn, so too was his adjoining medial ligament.


There was also bad cartilage damage and problems with the bone itself.

"Because I had done so much damage to the knee, Ray decided it would be better to let the knee settle down before the operation."

Six weeks later, Moran made – as he has done umpteen times – a small surgical incision in the front of Cahill's left knee before slotting in a tiny arthroscopic camera.

With a strip of tendon taken from the hamstring, he then threads the cruciate, puts all the various bits and pieces back in working order and sends the athlete off to begin the long process of recovery.

"Within a few hours of the injury, you're into the rehab really," Cahill explains. "You're trying to get the strength and mobility back into it."

At half seven each morning and seven the same evening for six days a week, Cahill went to the gym for an hour-and-a-half of slog.

He was back playing within six months of the operation and completed the full hour of St Brigid's All-Ireland club semi-final against An Ghaeltacht.

"There is definitely a difference between getting back on the pitch playing and actually getting back to the level you were at before the injury," he warns, however.

"It does take another maybe three or four months to get back to the same level. So it is really a 12-month process."

Just hours after receiving news that his year was over, Kilkenny tweeted a picture of himself and Kevin O'Brien, his All-Ireland winning U21 captain from 2012 and fellow cruciate victim.

In that too, Kilkenny and Cahill are alike in that the latter went through every stage of his recovery with fellow Dublin defender and St Brigid's teammate Peadar Andrews.

"I think, if you do the work, you're definitely able to come back 100 per cent.

"Certain guys haven't. And it's been obvious that they didn't put in the rehab work.


"In terms of pace and flexibility, I never had a problem with that afterwards.

"I never felt I lost anything and, touch wood, I've never had any problem with the knee since then.

"There's no reason why Ciarán won't get back to his best within 12 months."

What the injury means for Kilkenny is obvious. Bye, bye 2014.

For Dublin, it is less certain.

Now, Alan Brogan's comeback and improved form and fitness seems vital, rather than the bonus it once appeared.

Ditto Paddy Andrews, who drifted out to centre-forward during passages in last year's All-Ireland semi-final and final, while Cahill points out that, prior to Pat Gilroy giving him the number 11 jersey in 2011, Kevin McManamon had played some stellar stuff on the '45', kicking five points from play in that year's League final against Cork.

"Ciarán had a very good year last year. And you would have hoped he would have upped it another 10 or 15 per cent this season and I'm sure Jim Gavin had plans for him to play a prominent role. But they do have an embarrassment of riches, unlike Kerry, who probably don't have the depth of players and who will probably miss Gooch an awful lot more."