Peter O'Mahony feared he would never get back to his best
Peter O'Mahony has revealed that he feared he would never get back to his best after a frustratingly slow recovery from his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.
The Munster captain suffered the blow in the 2015 Rugby World Cup win over France and missed the remainder of the season, returning at the start of the last campaign.
Although he was a leading light for his province over the course of the year, he struggled to get into the Ireland side and his only start against Tier One opposition came on the final day of the Six Nations against England when Jamie Heaslip pulled out in the warm-up.
It was a slidingdoors moment for the Corkman who went on to captain the Lions in their first Test against New Zealand, before missing out on the subsequent encounters with the All Blacks.
He has kicked on this year and hit the ground running this season, securing a central contract with the IRFU and starting all of Ireland's big games in the campaign.
Against Italy 10 days ago, O'Mahony was one of the most influential players on the pitch and yesterday he admitted that he is feeling back to his best.
"I'm feeling fit," he said. "It takes a while and certainly guys who have had an ACL repair know it takes more than just the nine or 10 months of recovery and rehab to sort it so I am feeling fit and certainly enjoying being back playing for Ireland.
"It's frustrating. It's trying to get match-fitness back, match-sharpness and it's a difficult thing to get back to the level that we're playing at now. It does take a long time.
"It takes a long time for your knee to feel normal again which it is starting to do. It's been a long time, nearly two years coming up, so it's feeling good and I'm feeling fit again.
"You're rehabbing all the time and it's always an area that you have to keep an eye on and you have to keep strength around, keep on top of.
"It's not really one moment where you think 'it's better'. You've to keep on top of it all of the time."
And he conceded that he did fear that he might not get back to his best.
"I suppose the thought crosses your head, the thought process maybe when you get a bit of a set-back," he said.
"But I was lucky, I was a young man when it did happen so I knew I had a long time to get it right again.
"At the time of running on to the pitch you're second guessing yourself, but you get through it and game-by-game you start feeling better, trusting it more and more and now, luckily, you just don't think about it."
O'Mahony's body of work has earned him trust from his coaches, but he was fully aware that in professional sport patience is limited.
"There's leeway and there's understanding, but they're not going to put you in if you're not performing, or they're not going to say, 'Ah, he played well for us 12 months ago or 18 months ago, and I'm going to pick him this weekend because he did that'," he said.
"That's not the way the business is run so when I starting getting back, guys who were fitter and had more game time and were playing better than me with Ireland were getting picked, and so they should have been because I wasn't there yet, I wasn't ready for it.
"But I got myself there in the end, it takes time. There's a certain amount of understanding, but as I said they're not just going to throw you in because of what's gone behind you, I suppose."