Club Focus: Young star rebuilding his game in local club
A shocking knee injury threatened Matthew Cosgrove's playing days, but Sligo RFC have helped him back, writes Daragh Small
Matthew Cosgrove was one of the hottest prospects in the Connacht Rugby ranks in 2016 but a freak injury brought his career to a shuddering halt. From being on the brink of wearing an Ireland jersey the Sligo RFC clubman thought his rugby playing days were over for a time.
The big No 8 was coming into Sligo's clash with Corinthians on a massive high - he had been called up to the Ireland U-20s during the World Rugby Junior Championships in England.
But on September 2 at Corinthian Park he ruptured his ACL, tore his LCL and hamstring off the bone, ruptured his popliteus, and suffered a Grade 3 calf tear and Grade 2 MCL tear, in one excruciating collision in the Connacht Senior League.
"I was trying to poach the ball and got two hits to the leg. I got one on the inside and one straight on. It blew the knee back and then out the way, everything that was stopping that from happening snapped," said Cosgrove.
"It was a freak accident. It was just a blurry time because of the pain, I have never felt anything like that. It was horrific."
Cosgrove moved from Cork to Sligo when he was nine and took up residence in Kevinsfort. He played football locally but rugby was his first choice and Sligo RFC were the heartbeat of the community.
"I never played for another team since. I won so many trophies through the years. We have been all over with the club," said Cosgrove.
"When we were 17 or 18 the club was trying to get to the AIL. When we got through to senior, for all of the lads before us to have got us to the AIL, we were extremely grateful and it's why we are so focused on pushing on.
"We are a relatively small club, football is the dominant sport in Sligo but the people are so passionate. We are motivated because of the work that was done by people in years passed. We want to push on and get to 2B."
Sligo RFC is one of the oldest clubs in Ireland and was founded in 1890. Six years after that they took part in the first Connacht Senior Cup game, against University College Galway.
The Connacht Branch granted them senior status in 1975-76 and they remained a senior club until they lost a play-off against Midleton in 1997-98.
But in 2011, after a Connacht league and cup double, they returned and their fabulous underage structures have produced the likes of Conan O'Donnell, Cillian Gallagher and Stephen Kerins, who all ply their trade in the Sportsground with Connacht.
Last year Cosgrove's career was going along the same path. He earned a sub-academy deal when he graduated from Sligo Grammar School.
He took up studying Commerce in NUI Galway and the following summer Cosgrove was headed for England after he got called up to the Ireland U-20s for their semi-final against Argentina.
Connacht afforded him the opportunity to continue in the sub-academy where he would compete for a full academy contract before disaster struck.
"Originally they said it was only a Grade 2 LCL tear in the hospital, and I was going to be out for two months. I thought I could do it in a month in a professional set-up," said Cosgrove.
"But then I was referred to Niall Hogan in Santry and he laid out the full prognosis that I might not play again. He told me a lot of the players don't when they get that injury. He did a few physical tests and I failed them miserably.
"You go from being in contention for a place for your country to sitting there wondering is your career over. It was heart-breaking.
"He had to use synthetic ligaments in the operation. When you tear a ligament they use a graft from another part of your body to fix it, but any potential graft site was damaged or ruptured in my leg.
"I went into surgery two weeks after and my body accepted everything. There was a chance that it wouldn't but I was lucky.
"I got a great physio in Galway, Cliodhna Costello, and just worked really well with her. She kept me on track and kept challenging me.
"But I'll never forget the weeks after my surgery. I was housebound for a while. Going home in the car to Sligo was a two-hour drive by myself, and with that a lot of thoughts come into your head, will I play sport again?
"Niall Hogan had said this was a return-to-walk surgery and he wanted me to walk without a limp first. Anything else was a bonus.
"It was an incredibly long year with some dark days but there was a light at the end of the tunnel. When I ticked walking off, running wasn't too far away."
Playing rugby still remained a distant thought for Cosgrove but he was determined to give himself the best chance possible, and Sligo RFC provided the perfect foil.
"Sligo were massive through it all. I went to every game last season, I was like the kit-man, whatever they wanted. I just wanted to keep involved. There was always something you could come back to at the weekend and that kept my motivated.
"Tommy Craddock, Sligo's S&C coach, put me through hell in pre-season but it paid off. It was all so controlled and at my own pace and he pushed me within my limits.
"From a Sligo point of view getting him on board was massively important for me and the team. It was because of the good pre-season that I got back so quick. The knee was fine and it was just down to fitness and strength and that was all him."
Remarkably, exactly a year on from the horrific knee injury he suffered on the Tuam Road, Cosgrove lined out for his return against Corinthians in the Connacht Senior League again, this time on home turf.
"It was the same competition, some team, same days, just one was in Corinthians and this one was in Sligo. We won it both years, a lot of people were joking saying I should take another week off," said Cosgrove.
"The leg is feeling fine. I have absolutely no ill-effects. I have come a long way and Sligo have played a huge part in it."