Friday 19 July 2019

I've tried to use my injury setback to make me a better player

Player's Diary: Will Connors

On comeback trail: Will Connors (left) making his Leinster debut in Edinburgh 12 months ago. Photo: Sportsfile
On comeback trail: Will Connors (left) making his Leinster debut in Edinburgh 12 months ago. Photo: Sportsfile
Will Connors being treated for injury after after rupturing his ACL during a pre-season game against Newcastle Falcons. Photo: Sportsfile
Will Connors on the charge against the Southern Kings. Photo: Sportsfile

This is my first diary entry as a senior player in Leinster having been promoted from the Academy last summer. It's been a roller-coaster of a year for me. Twelve months ago last week I was lucky enough to make my debut against Edinburgh away from home in a game that sadly we lost, but it was still a memorable moment for my family and I.

As I reflected that night and the well wishes came in on my phone on the trip back, you are of course disappointed with the result but there is huge pride. This is a moment you have been working so hard for. You try not to think too far ahead of yourself but you do then set new goals and have new aims. I'm pretty sure it didn't play out like this.

I played another two games with the senior team until I pulled my hamstring against the Southern Kings, which sidelined me for a number of weeks. Since then, it's been one thing after the other and I've had multiple injuries, causing me to miss almost the entire pre-season with an Achilles injury and then after just a week back, I ruptured my ACL against Newcastle in our final pre-season game.

Expectations

At the time it was tough to take as I had such high expectations going into my first season as a senior player, so having them cut short so early on wasn't easy. Josh van der Flier and Ed Byrne similarly experienced ACL injuries and they were both great for providing me with a huge amount of support and advice. From this I set new goals and started on my rehab journey.

It's been a long journey from August 2018 to February 2019 and I'm just coming up to my sixth month out and, to be honest, it wasn't as bad as I expected. Initially, things moved very slowly after surgery and the first few months were spent basically regaining movement in my leg and slowly progressing into more functional movements like squats and so on. So yeah, it wasn't very exciting...but I suppose you have to enjoy a challenge in different ways.

Early on, there was only myself and Barry Daly injured which was a testament to the hard work put in by the medical staff in Leinster. We were doing similar rehab and also sat beside each other in the changing room so we spent an unhealthy amount of time together.

As the months went on, he started resembling Tom Hanks in 'Castaway' as he grew out his hair and beard which to this day he still hasn't cut. Still, though, we had some great craic and he made those first few months a lot more enjoyable.

My rehab coach Diarmaid Brennan has also been a huge support during this injury period. He pushes me hard during our sessions but we have good fun as well. He has an extremely unreliable right foot, which actually has its benefits when you're practising agility because once the ball hits his boot there's no telling where it could go.

I was delighted to see Barry return to action just after Christmas and he has gone on to make a huge impact on the season since. It sparked a new lease of life in me and since then I have been getting really excited to get back.

Around that time was also the halfway point for me, so finally I was starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel which made things a lot easier. Rehab since then has been really intense with up to five rehab sessions a week on top of gym work, conditioning and meetings so it keeps me quite busy. On top of that, I'm in my third year of Data Science in UCD which has also gone up a gear, so my daily routine is fairly flat out.

Another huge focus of mine has been to develop a better understanding of the game and in particular my own position. From day one of my injury, I've worked really hard to have a positive outlook on my situation, using this setback to motivate me and make me a better rugby player.

I've spent a huge amount of time critiquing my own game and really identifying what I can bring to the table so that when I'm back I can focus on these strengths. My goal is to come back both physically and mentally in a better place than when I began and I'm looking forward now to seeing how that all plays out.

Some of the advantages of being in the rehab crew is membership to our elite swim team 'The Leinster Lobsters'. Some of our newest recruits include Garry Ringrose and Lukey McGrath, both of whom possess a large inventory of various swim moves and dance routines.

Closely

I've also been working closely with our contact coach Hugh Hogan around the tackle area and ruck. It's been a great opportunity to be able to focus on these areas in such depth and I hope this will carry over into my on-field performance.

I'm back running now and doing a bit of change of direction so things are progressing really well. I'm looking forward to getting in some more pitch work and hopefully integrating back into training in the coming weeks. The end is definitely near... and I can't wait.

There's a good buzz around Leinster after last week's win against Zebre. It's great to see everyone playing so well, especially my housemates, Jimmy O'Brien and Conor O'Brien, who are both in exceptional form. This weekend poses a different challenge against the Kings and everyone's been preparing well in the week for it. In the reverse fixture earlier on in the year we were pushed right till the end and will be expecting more or less the same this Friday night.

Irish Independent

The Throw-In: Kerry back to their best, Connolly’s return and Cork’s baffling inconsistency

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport