Friday 21 September 2018

'I feel I am mentally stronger now after my injury'

Long cited as a team leader, the Portlaoise native is happy to be in contention once again

Eoghan Masterson is in excellent form on the blindside and at the tail of the scrum. Photo: Sportsfile
Eoghan Masterson is in excellent form on the blindside and at the tail of the scrum. Photo: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

From learning to walk again, to starting to run, getting back out into a full-blown training session, and then finally playing his first game, Eoghan Masterson has come a very long way and this season he has played a part in all six of Connacht's games in the Guinness PRO14.

He has put his horrendous knee injury behind him and focused on his bright future with the province where he looks destined for major leadership roles down the line.

The 24-year-old back-row sustained a major injury to his leg just a few months before Connacht made history to secure their first ever piece of silverware with the PRO12 title at BT Murrayfield in May 2016.

At that stage Masterson was still coming to terms with the injury he suffered away at Zebre at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi the previous February, but now he's moved on and made huge strides in this pre-season.

The Portlaoise native only played three times last season, and didn't even feature in the Champions Cup. But he has already doubled his tally this term and looks back to his very best out on the field.

"I am always looking to get better and perform better. As I said before, coming off the back of a long-term injury and to be involved in every game this season, is reasonably good. I want to kick on and get as much game-time as I can," says Masterson.

"I have been happy with how it has gone. It's important to get minutes under my belt and I feel I am getting better with every week."

But a massive part of the equation is to get Connacht moving forward in the PRO14 and with just one win in six games under Kieran Keane, it's been a rough start to 2017-'18 for the Westerners - they lie second from bottom in Conference A.

After winning the league two seasons ago, Connacht fell flat in Pat Lam's last year in charge, and after bowing out of Europe in the pool stages they failed to qualify for this season's Champions Cup.

Instead they head to Geneva tomorrow looking to put their best foot forward against Oyonnax, with Worcester Warriors and Brive their other opponents in Pool 5 of the Challenge Cup.

"It's frustrating being one from six in the PRO14. We could be six from six. We lost within one score against Glasgow, got the win against the Kings, then went away to Dragons and didn't play in the first half before dominating the second half," says Masterson.

"Against Cardiff, we threw that away in the last couple of minutes. We could have at least got a draw and three points out of Scarlets. And then last weekend against Ulster they got a breakaway score.

bounce "If the bounce of a ball went a bit differently we could have been flying high up there. Lads are aware of that. We are keeping positive and going into Europe taking all of the learnings from the first six rounds.

"It's a fresh start with a different tournament. The lads are excited about getting a good start to it and we are going to Switzerland to win.

"We want to win every game but the early games in the pool stages are obviously massively important in Europe. If you can get momentum going it's a huge thing."

Masterson's father is from Scotland, but his mother hails from Westport and his parents will be retiring there in the coming years, while his brother Sean is in the Connacht academy and his sister studies at NUI Galway. Eoghan has lived in Galway for five years now and after completing his BA degree at the Galway University, his home is out west now.

And after fearing for his career a couple of years ago, working with people like Tristan Sharp, Gareth Coughlan, Dave Hanley and Ray Moran helped him back to full fitness. Masterson is eternally grateful to have his chance out on the pitch again.

"I feel mentally stronger after my injury and hopefully that can stand to me in the future," says Masterson.

"It's completely on the back burner now. The first couple of games that I played back, it's always on your mind, what I get caught here and what if it happens again? But once you get the games into you and you get belts elsewhere it slowly goes away.

"The people I was working with put in a great effort. They were designing different rehab and strength and conditioning programmes every week. All I had to do was what I was told, do no more or no less every day.

"That was spread out over the course of nearly a year. I found it so rewarding to put in so much effort but get back playing for Connacht at the end of the day."

But just because he is fit again, it doesn't mean that Masterson just floats back into the Connacht starting 15 at will.

There is a vast array of talent in the back-row at present with captain John Muldoon still leading the line from No 8. Eoin McKeon, Jarrad Butler, Jake Heenan, Sean O'Brien and Naulia Dawai are just some of the players Masterson has to fend off for his jersey.

But his form has been positive so far this year. He has largely played on the blindside, but he has also showed some good form at the tail of the scrum when asked. Wherever he plays, he's happy to get the nod.

"The competition is unbelievable. There are about eight or nine back-rows with not much between them all. That competition is good and breeds success. If you do anything wrong in a match or training there is a guy ready to step up and take your place so it makes you tune in all of the time.

"We are lucky that's one of the areas in our squad that we are definitely really strong in."

Irish Independent

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