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Jones has eyes on bright horizon after injury woes

FELIX JONES heard the crunch and knew it was over. He had listened to enough of them over the years to know when it was serious.

Jones had gone up to claim a high ball, landed awkwardly and his World Cup dream was gone in the time it takes to crush three of the metatarsals that provide the driving force in your foot.

"I heard a crack, a crunch, and I thought, 'that can't be good'," he recalls.

"I stood up and there was no pain, but then I tried to walk on it and felt it caving in. I have heard enough crunches to know when it is a bad one and when it is okay.

"I knew straight away. I came off and (physio) Dave Reddin came with me into the treatment room. I was pretty emotional and then went out to Santry to get a scan, X-ray, all of that. It's hard to describe what you're feeling. You go into yourself. I was in my own world; I didn't know what was going on.

"I didn't know if I was going to make the World Cup squad. I suppose I'll never know now, but I knew whatever chance I had was gone, and it was hard to take.

"You put so much work in to get back and then it's gone again. I think one-off things maybe aren't too bad, but when it's blow after blow it destroys you."

And that's the killer -- such was his run of injury woes, it seemed like Jones was jinxed.

After coming up the ranks through Seapoint and the Leinster Academy, he made the bold decision to switch to Munster, only to suffer a career-threatening neck injury against Connacht a couple of months after his debut in 2009.

Jones fought back from that, a nine-month battle, and then did his knee a few games after his comeback. Six more months of rehab and he returned to bolster Munster's run to the Magners League title, was called into the Ireland side for the World Cup warm-ups and then ... crunch.

Whatever he says himself, Jones was a locked-down certainty for the World Cup squad.

He plays with an all-embracing energy from full-back, characterised by his trademark bobbing-head style of running, and his pace and verve had added to the Munster and Ireland backlines up until the latest injury. To have it all whipped away again, just as your career looks set to really take off, was devastating, and Jones is profoundly grateful for the support mechanisms at Munster.

"I had a few days moping around and then headed back to Limerick, and the first two lads I bumped into were (John) Hayes and Marcus (Horan)," says Jones, smiling at the memory.

"They asked me, 'why is everyone coming up to you and saying hard luck? Sure you were never going to the World Cup anyway'. That snapped me out of it fairly quickly.

"The support has been brilliant. I found myself getting very angry and resentful but there is a psychologist, Gerry Hussey, who told me what I was going through and what I would be likely to experience, and he was very accurate.

"There was a gang of us in the same boat -- David Wallace, Jerry Flannery, Mike Sherry, Tommy O'Donnell and Keith Earls were in and out and we would all train together.

"We called ourselves 'The Crips' after the LA gang in America.

"There were other guys to talk to as well, who know what you're going through. Ian Dowling and Barry Murphy and some of the older guys in the squad have been through the mill.

"And you have to take your mind off things and not just be going out on the lash all the time, that doesn't help. I play in a band (bodhran and backing vocals) with Barry Murphy called Hermitage Green, which kept me sane, and I am also doing a post-grad course online."

The subject matter comes as a bit of a surprise. No sports management or marketing degrees here -- it's classical studies, if you please.

"I liked it in school and studied it in UCD," explains Jones. "I'm not really into the poetry stuff -- it's Greek and Roman history."

Perhaps it's an area suited to the full-back's designation as the last line of defence, similar to Horatius on the bridge or Leonidas facing down the Persians, but Jones does not draw any analogies from his studies; he is merely grateful that they keep him positive.

And the 24-year-old, who was added to Munster's Heineken Cup squad for the knockout stages last week, is unfailingly positive.

"It was brilliant to be named," he said. "Of course, it doesn't guarantee anything. I still have to get back and prove myself, but it was a great boost.

"I hope to be back in full training very soon, although there is no game that I have targeted per se. I couldn't rush the rehab. I didn't need an operation, but if I had rushed it, I might have had to go for one.

"I'm trying to get that last couple of per cent of speed back; change of direction has not been an issue."

Jones' eagerness to return is accentuated by Munster's remarkable story this season.

Damned by injury problems, coach Tony McGahan has maximised his resources by trusting his younger players, digging out the wins through a powerful mixture of determination and pragmatism, and then overseeing a glorious explosion as Northampton were obliterated last weekend.

"We mightn't have been getting the headlines up to now but the amount of young guys coming through has been fantastic," says Jones.

"It's been rough with injuries, but guys are stepping up and the ethos is there. It doesn't matter who is injured or away on international duty, if you are wearing the jersey, you have to do it justice.

"I will always be very grateful to Leinster. I know I would not be the same player today without the help I got in the Leinster Academy, but with Rob (Kearney) and Isa (Nacewa) there, it was always going to be tough so I made the decision to move.

"I love it here. I'm living in Castletroy with Ian Keatley, another Leinster old boy who I played U-19 with and know for years, and Troy Smith, and I think I have settled in here really well.

"I'm feeling good, I'm getting close and I'm excited. I have left all that (injuries) behind me."

He pauses. "Touch wood," he adds and then knocks the table twice.

Irish Independent