INJURIES CAN OFTEN be the snakes and ladders of sport, and when the term is pluralised in a single season, the slippery, maddening descent back to square one can be utterly deflating.
Injuries are, of course, part and parcel of the game — more inevitable than avoidable — but when one layoff follows another, a player might begin to wonder if it’s more than bad luck.
Thankfully for Garry Ringrose, the Leinster centre who is now facing into his sixth month out this season through shoulder and ankle problems, there is no previous mental fatigue to weigh him down.
Prior to going under the knife to rectify a troublesome shoulder issue last June, Ringrose’s injury profile had been completely clean, having come through schools rugby, U20s and then two years at senior level with Leinster and Ireland unscathed.
“A few niggles, a stubbed toe but never missed any games through injury,” he says, with a wry smile.
You could say he’s paying for it this year, though.
The 23-year-old’s abridged playing time this season consists of five appearances, the last of which lasted just 13 minutes before he hobbled off in the Pro14 inter-pro win over Ulster at the start of January. He was only just back, too.
An operation on his ankle followed — Leinster’s syndesmosis curse struck again — and while he’s now nearing the final stages of his latest rehabilitation programme, the timing of it could not have been worse.
Not only was Ringrose stripped of the chance to play in Leinster’s final two Champions Cup pool games, but of the game time to sharpen his match fitness ahead of the Six Nations.
Having sat out Ireland’s November internationals, and watched Bundee Aki, Chris Farrell and Stuart McCloskey all deputise in the centre in his absence, he’ll do the same for the first two rounds of the Six Nations at the very least, and it seems optimistic to say he’ll be in contention for the round three clash with Wales on 24 February.
Ringrose’s default setting is to be positive, and certainly his outlook has always been to focus on incremental improvements during his extended time out of the game, but there is still work to be done before he can start thinking about getting back into the Carton House bubble.
“It has gone well,” he says of the recovery.
“The surgeon Johnny O’Connor did a great job, just sticking a wire in it kind of stabilises everything. It’s actually an efficient turn around injury, so we will still kind of play it by ear week-to-week but hopefully in the next two or three weeks I’ll be back out running and put my hand up then for Leinster in the coming games.”
At this stage, nearly four weeks after the operation, Ringrose has yet to return to full training and continues to work with Leinster’s medical staff on plyometrics (jump training) and has managed a light running workload in a bid to build up the strength in his ankle.
It’s a gradual process. Patience is required.
So rather than concentrate on the Six Nations, a more realistic target for Ringrose is the resumption of Leinster’s Pro14 campaign, when Leo Cullen’s side travel to Edinburgh on Friday week and then host Scarlets and the Southern Kings in back-to-back home games.
Logic would suggest if he can get minutes under his belt in any of those games, and come through unscathed, then he will be back in the fold for Ireland’s final two championship games against Scotland and England.
“I’ll be keeping one eye on the Six Nations,” he continues. “I won’t get too distracted by it. I think the main thing for me is focus and get back for Leinster. I unfortunately haven’t played that many games this year and it’s pretty competitive in the backline in Leinster and certainly in the centre so the next couple of games there is a window.
“A lot of the guys are at the Six Nations so I’ll be sticking my hand up to get picked then and anything that happens after that is out of my control.
“I think it would be pretty optimistic [to make those final two games], because I think I have to get back playing for Leinster and put my hand up in that regard, and then optimistically, hopefully get selected for the second half.
“Having said that, I’m not going to hold my breath. The focus for me is to try and get selected and then put in the performances for Leinster, and then go from there.”
With this being the first time he has suffered a setback in an otherwise meteoric rise, Ringrose understands the need to remain positive and while he hasn’t had the substance of matchday at the end of each week, it’s been important to remain on the inside of the bubble, whether it’s attending meetings or talking to senior players at Leinster.
“The Leinster medical team that’s behind you keep you motivated and throw something different at you each week,” he explains. “You have short-term goals that you are trying to hit and not get too distracted.
“I think as well even if you are injured you are still at meetings as part of the team, contributing in whatever way you can as well as analysing post-game as well so you feel you aren’t missing too much.
“Obviously at the weekend you don’t get to go out, which is the main part but it’s alright.
“Looking at other guys like Rob Kearney who have been out with injury and even someone like Isa Nacewa who has been out for a couple of weeks with injury and he comes back and he’s better than ever so I try and copy and get advice off them.
“Someone like Jamie Heaslip as well, he kind of sets the example in terms of professionalism and recovery and even attitude around the place. Even trying to copy someone like him and with guys like that I can look up to, hopefully, I won’t lose too much ground.”
There is always that concern.
Bundee Aki is expected to renew his midfield partnership with Robbie Henshaw in Paris on Saturday and when you throw Farrell and Rory Scannell into the mix too, competition for places has never been as intense.
For now, it’s not something Ringrose will let himself worry about, even though he’ll watch Ireland’s opening game at the Stade de France giddy with excitement as a fan, but also from an analytical point of view.
“I don’t really over think it too much,” he says of falling behind those aforementioned names. “From my point of view, the selection is out of my control. You can’t worry about that, let it bother you.
“But I try to focus on coming back from injury, to be in the best shape possible, try and get selected, put in the best performance possible and go from there.
“It’s never ideal getting injured and, yeah, the timing isn’t great but it’s part and parcel of the game and it happens, unfortunately. There is always going to competition, certainly in Ireland.
“But thankfully this isn’t too bad and it’ll be a couple more weeks.”
A return in time for St Patrick’s weekend in Twickenham with a Grand Slam on the line would be nice, wouldn’t it?
“Yeah, well I’m not going to hold my breath but hopefully I’ll get back and play for Leinster and see what happens from there.”
The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):