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'I had to turn it off... 'I can't watch this'': Rugby can wait as Dan Leavy eyes long road back

The Leinster and Ireland flanker has found the sport he loves to be a tough watch since his horror knee injury.

DAN LEAVY KNEW he was in trouble when he picked up his phone for one of those habitual, reflexive scrolls through Instagram during his trip to London for surgery.

A score update popped up in his feed. It was a Leinster game.

He hadn’t even known they were playing.

Following the rhythm of a rugby season, even watching the game you love must become a torturous wrench when in a position like Leavy found himself in. He is still trying to come to terms with his current role of ‘normal punter’ as he settles in for a long road to rehab ahead.

Dan Leavy meets fans Leavy poses for a selfie with fans in Donnybrook last weekend. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

It was early April when Leavy suffered his horror knee injury, rupturing anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments in the Champions Cup quarter-final win over Ulster. A fortnight ago he attempted to tune in to watch his international team-mates begin preparations for the World Cup against Italy.  Another gut punch.

“I heard the pundits talking about it, and I had to turn it off. I was like ‘I can’t watch this,’” says the Grand Slam-winning openside.

“I came back down and caught the end of the first-half and it was fine from there.”

It’s not about to get easier in the weeks ahead as Japan 2019, the shining beacon of a goal Leavy had been pushing himself to hit, will be in full swing while he is thousands of miles away.

Even last year I was injured a good bit and it was always in the back of my head that ‘The World Cup is mine. That’s where I am going to shine and that’s where I am going to do my thing.’

“That was always my goal and then the fact it was just taken like that, was pretty tough to take.”

At this juncture, with two surgeries behind him, Leavy has reasons to remain upbeat. The medical team and surgeons in his corner are positive about his chance of making a full recovery and fellow sportsmen in and out of rugby who were struck down with similar injuries have made contact to light the road back.

“Eoghan Masterson, Tom Parsons and a few other lads. David Meyler… they all rang me. I told them I was walking around at the time and they couldn’t believe it.”

Last week, Leo Cullen was wary of setting any sort of foreseeable timeline for his star back row’s return. Leavy is setting himself the target of returning to play by the end of the upcoming season. However, it’s a target he is willing to miss. After all, there’s no sense in short term gains for long-term ruin.

Dan Leavy celebrates winning Leavy celebrates a Grand Slam in Twickenham last year. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“With something like an ankle injury, I would always push it. Get back as quick as I can for the team. This is something that I really need to get right.

“If I rush back from this and re-injure, or I come back early and it’s not right, it could be career changing.

“So this is something I need to take my time with.

“If you are looking at the grand scheme of things and it’s a 12-month injury. If it takes 13 months, you’re in that far anyway, so what’s another month?”

Before Leavy settles in to chat in his ambassador role for the Vodafone Ireland’s Ball campaign, he takes the opportunity to get his foot elevated on a stool. Habit has allowed him make an otherwise awkward position appear comfortable, but the mental challenge of the injury has not been so easy to adapt to.

He has made the effort to keep himself busy, including sampling work experience in the field of aircraft leasing. But the earlier days were tough going.

After suffering the injury in the Aviva Stadium, Leavy had to wait almost a month before going under the knife in London. He initially shrugs that time off as ‘chilling on the couch’ but admits that’s when he began to drift from the daily grind.

“When I got injured, I pretty much – not distanced myself intentionally – but I wasn’t in Leinster for months in a row. It’s a pretty lonely path back. I’m blessed with friends and family and the support the lads have been calling into me and bringing me out for food. If I didn’t have that I’d say I’d be going crazy.”

The pain’s nothing. It’s more coming up to the World Cup now. All the chat’s about the World Cup and that’s pretty hard to deal with sometimes.”

SPORT Dan Leavy Vodafone launch Irelands Ball-7 Dan Leavy pictured at Vodafone’s “Ireland’s Ball” launch event in Ukiyo. Vodafone has created a world first ball grip that features the fingerprints of 32 people representing the 32 counties of Ireland. Source: Naoise Culhane

“I had to wait about a month (after injury), got my first op and then was on the couch for another month after that, then I got in to do rehab, made a lot of headway.

“So I pretty much did three months between my first op and second op and made serious strides, came on leaps and bounds. And then I went in five weeks today for my second batch of surgeries and the surgeons are delighted with it.

“It’s a long-term injury, I’m not going to rush it but I’m probably a little bit ahead at the moment.”

Those little slaps on the back mean the world. And so those the simple fact of being back in the building with Leinster and efforts the fitness staff make to break up his hard slog to the peak of his powers.

“The way we structured our rehab is that I’ll work for four or five weeks; really hard, double sessions every day, in for a good few hours in each session. Work really hard and then take a long weekend or something at the end of it so it’s not as monotonous.

“I’ll work really hard, they can see a lot of progress with the knee and I can see myself getting stronger. Then I take a break so I’ve something to look forward to.

“With these long-term injuries you wouldn’t be able to do nine months of rehab in a row. It’d be crazy, with the body burn-out as well. So it gives me opportunity to do things I wouldn’t usually be able to do, go on a few holidays that I’d never been on and concerts I couldn’t go to.

“So, if that’s a positive…”

Ireland’s Ball will travel to Japan with the Irish Rugby team as a symbol of the #TeamOfUs support from fans in Ireland and around the world.

For a chance to present Ireland’s Ball to the Irish Rugby team and win two tickets to Ireland V Wales on September 7th click here.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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