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'I didn't expect the rebound. I hit it, and to me, the ball was in the net but it came back off the post'

Clare’s Aron Shanagher reflects on his comeback for the Clare hurlers in 2018 following an ACL injury.

AS CLARE SUBSTITUTE Aron Shanagher looked on at their All-Ireland SHC semi-final against Galway earlier this year, one thought dominated his mind.

Aron Shanagher Clare's Aron Shanagher. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“I just wanted to get on the field,” he said to himself while the noise in Croke Park swirled around him.

The 2017 All-Ireland champions had pummeled them into a nine-point deficit after only 15 minutes.

A slaughter appeared to be on the cards. Galway had already dished out heavy beatings during the championship and it looked like the Banner was heading for similar treatment.

It was difficult to watch at times for Shanagher, but Clare clawed back into contention to make it a thrilling contest.

And by the turn of the 67th minute — with the gap now reduced to three points — the Wolfe Tones star was summoned to the sideline to make his first appearance for the county since he was struck down with a torn ACL the previous November.

“I always envisioned a Munster final or an All-Ireland semi-final for the date I wanted to be back so I kind of pushed towards that and thankfully, I did get back for it,”  he tells The42.

It was magical really, something I’ll never forget.”

“I know some people have cruciate injuries and they mightn’t come back after it or they might only go back to club level.

“It was always in my head that I wanted to be back with Clare so just to be on the sideline on that field ready to come back on was just something I’ll cherish.”

Shanagher was just 20 when the dreaded knee injury felled him in late 2017.

He had two seasons of senior inter-county duty completed at that stage and he was already thinking about achieving more in the Clare colours.

He wanted to use the next season to cement his spot in the side and possibly become a leader in the team. But the ACL tear intervened to put a major road block between the emerging star and the goals he had set for himself.

In fact, he was expected to be ruled out for the entire 2018 season.

The injury occurred during a training session when Shanagher landed awkwardly on his knee after jumping to catch a ball.

But there was no huge popping sound that normally accompanies ACL injuries and a seemingly quick recovery delayed the inevitable diagnosis.

“I was ok pretty much a week after,” Shanagher explains.

“I went back into training but it kept giving way underneath me and it was kind of a sure sign that there was something wrong with the cruciate.

“I went up to Santry in Dublin to have it looked at and that’s when I found out. We thought it might be something mild because I had an MRI and it didn’t really show up in that.

So when I came up to Dublin, I was expecting to hear [that I needed] maybe four or five weeks of rest and be back in no time after that. It was a shock that way but I took it on the chin really and was able to think about the way forward after that.”

Shangher underwent surgery last December before beginning the load road to recovery.

Naturally, his motivation was tested at times. He could see that other players were preparing for the start of a new season while his rehabilitation became his new priority. 

But Shanagher came up with ways to get through the long lay-off. He improved his striking technique from the right-hand side and worked on strengthening his upper body.

Aron Shanagher with fans after the game Shanagher signing autographs for fans after a game. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

His approach to the recovery worked and Shanagher was feeling good just four months after the injury.

He was back training with Clare within six months and was declared match-fit in time for their Munster SHC final against Cork.

But Shanagher and the management team knew it was still too early for him to make his comeback.

Peter Duggan scores his sides second goal Action from the 2018 Munster SHC final between Cork and Clare. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The All-Ireland semi-final became Shanagher’s next target but he was only given a hint that he might make an appearance at some stage against Galway.

Nothing was certain until his number appeared on the board.

“If they had told me I was coming on [in the semi-final], I probably would have been more nervous. I was definitely told that if it’s an option, we’re going to use you so just to be ready. But that’s not to say I knew I was coming on.

I would have been happy just to get two minutes and get on the field in Croke Park. That’s what I aimed for all year.”

He came on in place of Shane O’Donnell for that epic clash with Galway and he announced his return in style by scoring a goal at the start of the second half of extra-time.

It was a goal-poacher’s special.

As the rain lashed down, a long ball was delivered into the Clare forwards where a composed Shanagher was waiting to pounce. He jumped highest to catch it before turning to shoot on sight, sending the Clare fans into raptures.

“The lads would always joke with me that goal is always on my mind even if there’s no goal on,” says Shanagher. “It was definitely a position to get a goal.

“I can just remember my man was behind me and if I caught it there was always a chance that I’d get it so that’s why I went for it I suppose.”

Shanagher’s goal, coupled with a last-minute point from fellow substitute Jason McCarthy, ensured the game would go to a replay.

It was the fitting end to a superb match which formed another chapter of an incredible season for hurling.

McCarthy’s point even drew comparisons with Domhnall O’Donovan’s famous equaliser for Clare in the 2013 drawn All-Ireland final.

“A lot of people have said to us that they’ve found a new love for hurling again because the season was so good,” says Shanagher.

“I remember watching [Domhnall O'Donovan's point] up in Hill 16 when I was a young fella and to be there a few years later and being a part of it… you’re the man wearing the jersey and you’re carrying it on.

“For the season that was in it, it was great for hurling.”

Jason McCarthy scores the equalising point to force a replay Jason McCarthy scoring the equaliser against Galway. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Shanagher knew that playing a bigger role in the replay wasn’t a realistic possibility for him, but Clare would need his assistance before the end in Thurles.

With the game delicately in the balance, he was introduced with seven minutes of normal time remaining.

He settled into the game with a point shortly after coming on and a goal opportunity presented itself moments later.

Shane O’Donnell put him through on goal where Shanagher tried to guide the ball into the net, only for Galway keeper James Skehill to put his body in the way.

The ball rebounded into Shanagher’s path and an empty net lay in front of him.

The youngster tried to volley it first-time, and his teammate O’Donnell seemed to already be celebrating before realising that the net wasn’t rattling.

“I suppose you could say I went from hero to zero after that with the post.

I suppose I didn’t expect the rebound in the first place and then when it came back, I hit it and to me, the ball was in the net but it came back off the post.

“It’s not something I get down about and I joke about it the whole time with my friends. 

“I suppose [I was] young and dumb, I just wanted to get it in the goals as quick as I could. In hindsight definitely, there were other ways around it.

But that’s something for next year when I’m back in Croke Park.”

Aron Shanagher has his shot saved by James Skehill Galway goalkeeper James Skehill saves Shangher's shot at goal. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Galway managed to squeeze through and book a place in the All-Ireland final where they would lose their crown to a hungry Limerick outfit looking to end a 45-year wait for the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

Shanagher reckons Clare could have beaten Limerick in the decider but their search for a first All-Ireland crown since 2013 stretches on for another year.

A year has passed since Shanagher had the operation for his ACL tear, and he is experiencing a very different Christmas break this time around. 

He doesn’t have to rest up or look on with envy as others prepare for the new season. He’ll be there with them this time.

And all the things he wants to achieve with Clare are very much in his grasp again.

“Everything happens for a reason so it just wasn’t our year but it was definitely progress getting to the semi-final. 

“I wasn’t involved much last year but I was always on the sideline and from what I saw, I think anything is possible with us.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we were in the final [next year].”

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