SOME CALL IT the worst injury in sport.
While broken limbs and soft tissue damage are often guaranteed to heal fully, the dreaded anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is always shrouded in doubt. Some players make total recoveries, but others are left with a lingering sense that they will never be the same athlete as before.
Very often, recovering from an ACL tear is down to the sheer mental strength of the sportsperson in question, an ability to work through the monotonous rehabilitation, and then trust their knee to hold firm when they return to play.
If mental strength is indeed the key to full recovery from a ruptured ACL, then Kerry’s Colm Cooper is beginning his journey in a good place. Having already undergone surgery on his injury – which also included a fracture knee – the 30-year-old has his sights set on a comeback.
I’m going to work really hard over the next few months,” Cooper told RTÉ’s Six-One news. “It’s going to be a long road and there will be bumps along the way, but I’m confident and committed to getting back in 2015 first with Dr Crokes and then with the Kerry team.
“Hopefully, there’ll be good times again.”
Oddly enough for such a vital piece of a human’s athletic make up, the ACL is the weakest ligament in the body. Situated in the very centre of one’s knee, the ACL allows humans to accelerate, decelerate and turn sharply.
Many athletes who tear their ACL will recount a popping sensation or even a loud noise to accompany that feeling. The Gooch says his experience was no different.
“Deep down I knew there was quite a bit of damage done. I felt a little click or pop or something. I was trying to tell myself that I didn’t feel it, but that was only a lie. Coming off the pitch there was a lot of pain and devastation. My heart sank a little bit.
Being told that you can’t play for the season is a real disappointment. For me, football means so much; it’s a huge part of my life. It’s probably the worst news you can get being a sportsperson.”
And yet, despite the severity of the injury, there are countless examples of sportspeople making complete and dramatic returns to their peak athletic capabilities. Cork forward Colm O’Neill has remarkably recovered from no less than three ACL injuries, providing Cooper with a ready-made inspiration.
“I have learned to cope with it over the last couple of days and I’m now focusing on getting back as soon as I can,” said Cooper. “The hunger and motivation is there. I don’t feel I’m quite done yet, even though I’m 30. I can come back.
“When you see the likes of Colm O’Neill returning that kind of inspires you and shows what can be done that a guy can come back after three cruciates.”