JERRY FLANNERY hasn't had much to shout about recently, so it's no surprise his voice is a whisper as he catalogues his latest route back from injury.
The Munster and Ireland hooker (32) is in danger of becoming the forgotten man of Irish rugby, appearing in squad announcements and being tipped for comebacks only for another part of his body to break down and revert back to square one.
The last time he played the full 80 minutes was in April 2010 as his province exited the Heineken Cup at the hands of Biarritz in the San Sebastian sun. It's not even a happy memory to reflect on. He hasn't played an international since earning a six-week ban for an 'attempted kick' on Alexis Palisson as Ireland collapsed to a 33-10 defeat in the Stade de France. Fifteen months and counting.
There have been dark days and he admits to considering giving it all up and walking away -- but he returned to pre-season last week and wants a place on the plane to New Zealand.
"It's just been very frustrating, you know? It's the mental side of it more than anything, you feel you're not contributing," he said yesterday at a Guinness rugby promotion.
"I hurt my calf in January against Ulster and it was my right calf. I thought we'd put it down to fluke and we were happy the left hadn't gone.
"I started back training and everything was going well, so I was called into the Six Nations squad. I'd been training in the hope of getting a Celtic League game in the middle of the competition and then get back and play a game.
"But I tore my left calf then when I was training and I couldn't see any light there. It was quite bleak for a couple of weeks, I wasn't sure what other options I had.
"The medical staff were very good and in fairness to Declan Kidney, he's been very understanding that the mental side can be quite tough on a player and he told me to stop putting deadlines on it.
"It's difficult to show up every day for training when you're not contributing or you can't help out but Munster have been very good that way as well."
Flannery's calf has been the problem, but it's never been a clear-cut injury.
It has had knock-on effects on other parts of his body, but ultimately he did a test for compartment syndrome and it came out positive.
The hooker resembles an experienced doctor as he explains his route to this point -- he knows the terminology as only a player suffering from a career-threatening injury does. He lifts up his tracksuit to show the scarring on his left leg. He went under the knife for a fasciotomy in March and came through week one of pre-season last week.
"Until I've played my first game I'm being hesitant," he admitted. "So far so good, as long as I can take part with the lads. I'm just conscious that there are going to be muscle imbalances in my left and right leg and while I can take part, in the meantime I need to balance it out and put the strength back in both legs."
He will make himself available for Munster and Ireland's pre-season matches in the hope of convincing Kidney of his fitness.
"The more games I can get under my belt the better," he said. "The question has been in my head for months as to how I am going to play, because I've always been able to get to a point where I've been able to get back to play a match but I've broken down.
"So there's been a fundamental reason for that. The sooner I can play I can put that question to bed and then I'll play two games a week if you let me."