Sunday 17 November 2019

Sullivan's long Rhode back after 'mini-death'

Paraic Sullivan
Paraic Sullivan
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

Sport can be a very cruel mistress sometimes, just ask Paraic Sullivan.

Despite concentrating his time with Offaly during the early stages of the League this year, Sullivan played a club challenge match against Dunboyne.

But what was supposed to be a gesture of obligation to Rhode - who take on Edenderry in the Offaly SFC final on Sunday - turned into a nightmare.

He turned sharply right on the stroke of half-time, and having already ruptured his cruciate in 2007, he knew the long road which was ahead of him. He knew it all too well.

"It felt like a mini-death. My season was over, I was going to be on crutches again, I was going to have another surgery. I was going to be completely useless to everyone," he admitted.

"I was just trying to process the whole thing. After losing to St Vincent's in the Leinster final last year, I had ideas in my head of things I wanted to improve, changes I hoped to help implement. But then it was all gone."

By rights he shouldn't have been playing at all, but in his role as club captain, he felt compelled to play one half. It was the perfect crime but he was caught out with a horrible twist.

However, it was this same dedication and commitment that soon sent his mind spinning towards the future, and in a positive direction.

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"Then I kind of thought about it. I spent a while mulling it over, and I thought that maybe if I did everything to absolute perfection that Rhode might still be going in November, I might see some action," Sullivan said.

"I went absolutely hammer and tongs at it and I didn't cut any corners. It's incredibly time-sapping. It's lonely, it's just you and a programme. But while it was mind-numbing, there was a silver lining.

"Having a goal is everything, it gave me drive and a purpose. I was fixated with getting back around the time of the county final, it kept me going."

Former county midfielder Alan McNamee assumed the captaincy in his place but Sullivan couldn't keep away and he helped Pat Daly's side any way he could, be it carrying water or just offering a word of support.

"I was tying in with them every chance I got, when they were in the gym or doing anything I could do. I used it as a coping mechanism, it helped to stay involved and I didn't just lock myself away and waltz back in and say 'I'm back'."

UFC star Conor McGregor was praised for his remarkable rehabilitation from a cruciate injury, getting back in the octagon in 11 months, but Sullivan nearly halved that.

His work as a soldier in the Irish Defence Forces has fostered extraordinary dedication and after less than six months, he made a triumphant comeback.

Having excelled in a range of assessments, he was ready. Why wait any longer? He felt confident and ready and passed his first test with 30 minutes of football before making a five-minute cameo in Rhode's county semi-final win against Clara.

Most people would be basking in their achievement but such is Sullivan's drive, thoughts quickly turned to their final with neighbours Edenderry, the 2011 champions, and another tilt at an elusive Leinster crown.

"It was relief and elation but I quickly binned that. This is going to be some battle," he stressed. "We're very thirsty for it and we would go above and beyond to win a Leinster, but that's not even in our minds now.


"We're fully focused on Sunday. We haven't done back-to-back since 2006 and that's another motivation."

After speaking to Cork's Jamie Wall during his recovery from paralysis, he appreciates how lucky he is to even be playing football.

"I was down in the dumps about football while he's fighting to walk again. He's a powerful man, he's so driven and I got a huge dose of perspective from him," Sullivan said.

"He had the world at his feet and suddenly it was taken away. When I'm down, I often think about just how courageous he is and that snaps me back down to earth pretty lively. He's an inspiration."

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