'Fellas are constantly putting their hands up in this squad'
The Big Interview: Darren O'Shea
Without a game since May 6, Munster's Darren O'Shea isn't far off full fitness now, and his shoulder woes look to have eased.
It was always going to be a difficult decision to go under the knife so early in his career, but the 24-year-old has recovered now and is bursting to get some minutes back on the pitch.
After a very promising campaign with eye-catching performances in the second-row, O'Shea has not featured since Munster's comprehensive victory over Connacht at Thomond Park at the end of last season, and his summer was purely focused on preventing any more wear and tear.
But that mental torture has given way to a brand new beginning and he will hope to slot into a Munster second-row currently bereft of depth due to injury.
"I'm towards the end of the injury - I got my shoulder fixed because it was at me a bit at the end of last season," says O'Shea.
"I just went in at the end of the season to get it done. I didn't have much holidays, it was straight in and straight rehabbing. Hopefully I will be back in the next couple of weeks.
"I had complete labral repair. It was a thing I have been struggling with for a while so it is an accumulation of last season and the year before. I had keyhole surgery in June. I will hopefully get back training with the squad in the next few weeks so I am looking forward to that.
"I was in the week after the PRO12 final, the first month I wasn't able to do much because I had a sling on. So for the first two weeks I just chilled out at home because I wasn't able to do much for myself. I was in then from the second week in June onwards.
"The hardest thing has definitely been the mental side, trying to keep yourself busy with the lads training. You miss being out there with them."
And unfortunately he's not the only Munster second-row suffering at the moment - Mark Flanagan has joined the province on a short-term deal from Saracens to help fill the void left due to the injuries.
South African lock Gerbrandt Grobler will be out injured until January, while O'Shea said it took some adjusting to life without Donnacha Ryan at Munster this season.
"Gerbrandt is a great addition to the squad. He has been training hard all summer it's just a shame that he picked up an ankle injury against Worcester Warriors, hopefully he will be back soon," says O'Shea.
"Our squad has great depth in it now. Fellas are constantly putting their hands up even with some of the academy lads pushing through with Liam and Sean O'Connor.
"Those type of guys are putting massive pressure on the more senior lads in the squad and creating healthy competition.
"But it was disappointing to see Donnacha Ryan go. He helped me out a lot last season. I enjoyed my time learning off him.
"He was a great fella to have around, always positive, full of knowledge which is always good in that position."
O'Shea spent one year in the Greencore Munster Academy before he left for Worcester Warriors in 2014-'15. He returned to Munster for last season and played 12 times between the league and Europe.
The Crosshaven native is hopefully over the worst of his shoulder issues now and having had surgery he can re-focus on his playing career.
"I was delighted to sign and come back to Munster. Playing with your province is what you want to do when you are growing up playing rugby. It was a very good season for me personally last season," O'Shea adds.
"Hopefully I can come back from injury and hit the ground running. I want to put my best foot forward and put my hand up for selection, and keep building on last year.
"At the moment I am just focusing on getting back on the pitch, getting over the shoulder operation and taking every week as it comes."
O'Shea has all of the attributes and potential that could lead to him becoming a star Munster, and Ireland, second-row in the future.
But for now he is entirely focused on his provincial career and he will be desperately disappointed to see director of rugby Rassie Erasmus depart Limerick.
Erasmus gave O'Shea his chance to shine in 2016-'17 and he didn't disappoint with some brilliant displays in the Munster red.
When Erasmus, and defence coach Jacques Nienaber, head back to South Africa, O'Shea will have some new coaches to impress.
But the Dolphin clubman is excited about the prospect of learning more about his own game and showing how he can continually improve and grow into an established first-team player.
"Having that sort of long-term injury helps you grow as a person. Mentally, it was tough enough at times but we have a great S&C and medical team which helped me all the way through. I had good support off of the lads in the team too," says O'Shea.
"Watching training and doing video. You are just trying to keep it in the squad so you are not falling behind. Hopefully once I get back out there I can just slot back in.
"For us, it's always sad to see a coach go. We have learned a lot from Rassie but he is going to be here until December so we are going to keep tapping into his knowledge and experience before he goes.
"We have a great leadership group in the squad and they have stepped up a lot which makes everything a bit easier."