Thursday 13 December 2018

Mulligan nears light at the end of another long road back

Leitrim talisman tells Darragh Small of his plans for the months ahead as he closes in on return from a third cruciate injury

Emlyn Mulligan is nearing an inter-county return after his latest serious knee injury. Photo: Sportsfile
Emlyn Mulligan is nearing an inter-county return after his latest serious knee injury. Photo: Sportsfile

Darragh Small

The 'Beast from the East' may have caused havoc with the weekend's GAA schedule but when you are working your way back from your third cruciate knee operation, it really is just a minor inconvenience.

Emlyn Mulligan knows better than anyone that you need to be patient but the resilience of the Leitrim star is strong and he is taking it all in his stride.

Leitrim found out early that their Division 4 match away to London wasn't going ahead, so at least it wasn't another wasted trip to the English capital.

Instead they get another week to regroup, recap on a positive showing against Limerick last time out, and who knows they might be about to receive a massive shot in the arm.

Mulligan was set to travel to Ruislip this weekend, but despite being part of the panel, he wouldn't play. His final check-up takes place on Thursday in Santry, and if he responds well he could be set for a return to action very soon.

"It's my final nine-month assessment. Hopefully after Thursday I will be looking at Paddy's weekend to come back in," said Mulligan.

"Then I will be looking to get game-time against Waterford, and push a bit more for the Wicklow game, and then ease my way into the championship for the New York game in May. That's the aim, hopefully it will go according to plan."

It's been another heart-breaking slog for the 30-year-old Melvin Gaels forward, but he appreciates more than most that knee injuries are precious, they take time to heal and cannot be rushed.

Damaged

Mulligan damaged his right knee in 2009 and 2010 and the latest injury - a third torn cruciate - occurred in, what he thought was his indestructible left.

But it was a peculiar blow that ended 2017 before it ever really got going, and for a lesser mind, it could have been retirement.

"It was very simple. I went to side-step a lad in training and it went," said Mulligan.

"Earlier in the league against Wexford I went over on my knee. I felt something go that day. I didn't get a scan on it at the time. Two weeks later it wasn't too bad and I got to play.

"But I felt I partially tore it that day, I was in excruciating pain that day in February. I could feel something catching at the back of my leg for a few months.

"Whether that day in training on May 11 it just went completely then. The way it happened in training that night was just the simplest of little stretches that just snapped it.

"It is very hard to know. I didn't feel too bad so I didn't bother going up to Dublin to get it done until the second time. I got my operation four weeks later on June 8.

"I was lucky enough because the leg was in good shape in terms of strength and there was no other damage done to it. I went straight in for an operation.

"Sometimes you have to wait two or three months to strengthen it back up but thankfully I was able to go under the knife straight away, in terms of getting back up and ready for the season."

Mulligan got his operation done by the acclaimed consultant Ray Moran in Santry at the beginning of June. And a plan was put in place where he would review the injury every three months, up to the nine-month stage.

But the thoughts of returning from such a long-term injury, while he headed into the twilight stages of his career, didn't make Mulligan reluctant about making a return.

"This is probably the easiest one to come back from to be fair. It was different to 2009 and 2010 when I was a lot younger," said Mulligan.

"I was a lot more immature in terms of my lifestyle, a single man enjoying the good life when I was off work. Now I am engaged and settled and working. It's easier to focus your mind on it when you have a bit more support around you.

"Back then, not that I didn't do anything right but I was a lot more focused on it in terms of preparation and putting in the work. I have been flat out for the last nine months, three or four nights a week solid on the leg.

"It's tough doing that but I have never thought about not coming back. There are people out there less fortunate than me and it was only a case of fixing the knee, working hard and football is the easy part of it. I was always aiming to get back. Thankfully I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now.

"I was lucky, I had no complications with it. It has been plain sailing really. There has been nothing stopping me from doing my rehab. Every time I have been checked I have been on target if not ahead of it. Thankfully there has been no hassle."

And while he trained hard over the tough winter months, there were plenty of doubters, but that just acted to strengthen Mulligan's resolve. "People do always say you are mad to come back. But at the end of the day I love playing football," said Mulligan, a garda based in Castlerea, Co Roscommon.

"I just love to get involved in a team and playing in front of big crowds. The league is fair enough but with the weather at this time of the year, it's not the most appealing.

Missed

"But championship football, even last year you would have missed the big championship days and the build-up to them. Going to Dr Hyde Park in front of 15,000, you would miss that buzz regardless of the result.

"It's just about getting that feeling back again. I am just focused on that. That's what motivates me every year and it's no different this year."

Mulligan has returned to his job in 2018, after a three-year career break, and the year holds special significance for him - it's book-ended by his marriage to Elaine Kerins in Lough Eske Castle, Donegal on 7 December.

Between now and then he hopes to enjoy many days on the field, but first up is getting the all-clear and then he will be off again.

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