Ex-Ireland star Ferris still feeling effects of injury-ravaged career
A dark empty feeling hung over Stephen Ferris as he sat in the all-too-familiar surrounds of the doctor's waiting room.
Just a few weeks earlier, he had been in the same place having been handed a lifeline for his career that was veering wildly towards the edge of a cliff.
No sooner had Ferris been offered the glimmer of hope than it was cruelly snatched away again, as he began to face up to a reality that he had tried to ignore up to that point.
If you play professional sport as aggressively and as powerfully as Ferris, then injuries are inevitable, but the constant battle against his body had taken its toll, both mentally and physically.
Six years on from having to hang up his boots, the former Ulster and Ireland back-row is walking proof of the lasting effects rugby can have.
For starters, his left knee is still in bits. His right ankle, which eventually finished his rugby playing days, has never been the same, while he also has nerve damage in his feet.
On top of that, Ferris will go under the knife in the coming weeks to fix a wrist injury. That will bring his surgery tally up to 12, a staggering amount for any 34-year-old.
For all that Ferris put his body through the wringer, he counts himself as one of the lucky ones. He has witnessed first-hand the kind of damage that his fellow former players have suffered, and while he still doesn't feel 100 per cent right, he has learned to adapt to how his body now feels on a daily basis.
Seán O'Brien can definitely relate to a lot of what Ferris went through, and that Ireland were so often denied the services of two of the most powerful athletes that the country has ever produced is not easily forgotten.
Although he played 106 times for Ulster, won 35 caps for Ireland, as well as having been selected for the 2009 Lions tour, Ferris's career promised much more. Retiring at 28 was certainly not part of the plan.
"I definitely appreciate things a lot more now," Ferris reflects.
"When you are a professional rugby player, all of your focus is on being the best player ever.
"Family, girlfriends, wives become secondary. You tend to appreciate them a lot more when you are retired.
"Saying that, there is absolutely no doubt that I would have loved to have continued on playing rugby for another three, four, five years.
"Who knows if I would still be playing now if I hadn't wrecked myself. You can probably back me up on this, I probably wouldn't be playing at this age because I did go 100 miles an hour all of the time.
"If I hadn't injured myself in that game in 2012, I could have wrecked myself in 2013, '14 or '15. That's the way I played the game.
"However, I'm not saying lads are strategic in the way they play games, but I probably would have played less games nowadays.
"You see the likes of Johnny Sexton and Rory Best when he came towards the end of his career. Like, Rory played four PRO14 games in the season before he retired.
"I tended to play 10 PRO14 games and then miss out on a couple of internationals because of injury."
That sense of 'what might have been' is unavoidable when looking back on Ferris's nine years as a professional.
One of his friends recently suffered a mountain biking accident for which he required corrective surgery. The haze-filled days that followed were a blur, which prompted him to ask Ferris just how on earth he managed to go through the same process so often down through the years.
"It's crazy to think what you put your body through," Ferris admits.
"Before I wrecked my ankle, with all of my previous injuries, as soon as I got back running again, I knew I was going to get back fitter, faster, stronger, but with my ankle, that was never the case.
"As soon the cast came off, my ankle didn't feel right. Then I went under the knife again, and it still didn't feel right.
"I still had a massive pain and the swelling just wouldn't go away. That was mental torture.
"You are putting all your hopes on surgeons, who have trained for years and years, to try and fix you.
"When they can't fix you and they turn around and tell you, 'Look Stevie, you have had three surgeries on this ankle, I don't think another operation is going to do anything for it. We have explored all of the options.'
"Those words were pretty hard to take. Those 18 months were a disaster because never at any stage did I feel like I was going to get back playing at a proper level.
"From the day I injured my ankle to the day I retired, not once did I feel like I was going to continue being a professional because I never felt fit.
"It was hard. I'm a pretty resilient person. I'd back myself to overcome anything - mentally and physically.
"I don't tend to rely on others as much as I probably should do. Maybe that is more of a macho rugby thing. But it probably has made me a stronger person on the back of it."
Two years after suffering the initial ankle injury, Ferris reluctantly accepted his fate. Even after all pain and suffering, he is not bitter.
"People look at the shape I am in now and always ask, if I had kids, would I let them play rugby," Ferris adds.
"But I still class myself as lucky. I climbed Kilimanjaro for the IRFU injured rugby players' fund. Some people have suffered a lot more serious injuries than myself. They are much less fortunate.
"I look at the way the game is played now. There have been a good few rule changes since I hung up the boots. That would probably play into my favour a little bit more now.
"The impacts are coming down a little bit, they are not as high. I feel that the risk of injuries is probably slightly less now compared to when I played.
"But I have no resentment towards rugby.
"The reason I played was because it was a contact sport. I loved getting one over on my opposite number, I loved the physicality. I liked being a dominant force.
"If I could turn back the clock, I wouldn't do too much differently."