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14 top hurlers and footballers on the comeback trail from injury in 2016

These stars have been through a rough time but are hoping for better fortune in 2016.

1. Podge Collins (Clare)

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Collins has been out of action since damaging his knee in a club game last May.

But the dual star from Cratloe has been making steady recent progress as he recovers from cruciate damage and he has signalled his intent to return to hurling as Clare prepare for a potentially bright new era following Donal Óg Cusack’s arrival as coach.

Collins was superb for the hurlers in 2013 as they stormed to All-Ireland senior glory but after a disappointing 2014 campaign, he opted for football only last year.

2. Pauric Mahony (Waterford)

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Shortly after masterminding Allianz League success for Waterford, Derek McGrath’s plans for the 2015 Munster senior hurling championship were badly hit by an horrific broken leg sustained by ace forward Pauric Mahony.

Maurice Shanahan assumed free-taking duties and stepped up to the plate brilliantly but Mahony was still a big miss for the Déise in attack.

Having the Ballygunner hitman back on board this year will feel like a ‘new signing’ for Waterford and he will provide a badly-needed extra option up front.

Waterford are difficult to break down but need more game changers like Mahony to profit at the other end of the pitch.

3. Stephen Cronin (Cork)

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Stephen Cronin’s fractured leg robbed him of a Cork senior football championship medal with Nemo Rangers last year.

But still just 20 years of age, Cronin has plenty of time on his side as he looks to bounce back from serious injury.

He’s still eligible for the U21 grade in 2016 and with new senior boss Peadar Healy arriving with a blank page, Cronin will be hoping to build on last year’s progress which saw him make his championship debut against Clare.

4. Eoghan O’Gara (Dublin)

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

He might look cumbersome and unorthodox to some observers but there’s no doubting Eoghan O’Gara’s effectiveness.

The giant forward was injured on club duty last April and the setback was untimely for the player who had impressed during the early months of the 2016 campaign.

In his absence, Dublin still managed to win the League, Leinster and All-Ireland titles but with O’Gara back fully fit and Paul Mannion also available again, the Sky Blues will have a frightening array of attacking talent at their disposal.

5. Cillian O’Connor (Mayo)

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

With Stephen Rochford on board as Mayo boss, hopes are high that the county can finally end an All-Ireland senior football championship famine dating back to 1951.

Central to the county’s cause is Cillian O’Connor, top scorer in the championship for the last three seasons.

O’Connor will sit out the entire Allianz League campaign after undergoing knee surgery but the Ballintubber hitman should return fit, hungry and fresh for the business end of the campaign.

6. James O’Donoghue (Kerry)

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Another player resigned to a watching brief for the 2016 Allianz League campaign is Kerry forward James O’Donoghue.

The Legion clubman has been plagued by shoulder problems in recent times but went under the knife again before Christmas in an attempt to stave off the prospect of any further issues.

O’Donoghue has suffered with both shoulders in the past and was struck down by his latest setback against Kildare in the All-Ireland quarter-final rout. 

O’Donoghue soldiered on for the remainder of the season for club and county but was left with no option but to undergo surgery again.

7. Michael Rice (Kilkenny)

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Rice lost almost two years of his career to serious injury but returned in 2015 to line out for the Kilkenny intermediates.

Now restored to full fitness, the Carrickshock man will have his sights set on a return to the county’s senior hurling panel.

Rice will be 32 later this month but having suffered with a bad hand injury and cruciate knee ligament problems in recent years, there’s still time to star for the Cats again.

8. Christopher Joyce (Cork)

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Cork’s defensive issues in key positions have been well documented but the Rebels opted for Christopher Joyce to plug the full-back role early in 2015.

The Na Piarsaigh clubman is also an accomplished player in the half-back line, learning from the likes of Seán Óg Ó h’Ailpín and John Gardiner at club level, but his biggest challenge to date has been recovering from cruciate knee ligament damage.

Joyce suffered the injury against Dublin in a League clash back in March and was ruled out for the remainder of the 2015 campaign.

9. Charlie Harrison (Sligo)

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

When Sligo were being blitzed by Mayo in last summer’s Connacht senior football final, Charlie Harrison was one of the most frustrated onlookers.

Harrison was another player to fall foul of the cruciate curse in 2015, when he suffered the injury in training back in March.

He’s been sidelined ever since and while the former Allstar is 34 this year, his experience will prove vital as the Yeats men look to make headway in Division 3 of the Allianz League before turning their attentions to the championship.

10. Conor Cleary (Clare)

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Captain of the Clare U21 hurlers in 2015, Cleary’s season ended in August when he sustained a fractured ankle playing for Kilmaley in the Clare club championship.

A talented defender who has already made his senior debut, Cleary is a member of Davy Fitzgerald’s extended squad for the 2016 campaign.

Cleary’s injury had not healed in time as St. Joseph’s Miltown-Malbay claimed glory in the Clare SFC, and he was an unused sub as they bowed out of the provincial championship against Clonmel Commercials.

11. George Hannigan (Tipperary)

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Hannigan was enjoying one of his most consistent campaigns in a Tipperary shirt when he suffered a season-ending groin injury against Kerry in last May’s Munster SFC semi-final.

And his absence for the vast majority of the Allianz League campaign is a major blow to incoming boss Liam Kearns, who is facing a personnel crisis.

Tipp are struggling for options in midfield with Hannigan injured, Colin O’Riordan in Australia and Steven O’Brien now on board with the county’s senior hurlers.

12. Colm Cooper (Kerry)

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

2015 was a frustrating season for Colm Cooper. Having made his comeback from cruciate knee ligament damage, the Dr. Crokes wizard struggled to nail down a regular starting place in the Kerry team until the business end of the campaign.

Cooper was brilliantly-shackled by Dublin’s Philly McMahon in the All-Ireland final and his year ended on the operating table as the gifted forward underwent surgery on a shoulder problem.

Cooper looks set to be sidelined until March but now in the twilight of his career, he’ll be determined to ensure that there’s one more big season left.

13. Kieran O’Leary (Kerry)

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Cooper’s Dr. Crokes clubmate Kieran O’Leary is another player on the way back from serious injury in 2016.

Currently rehabbing an Achilles tendon rupture, O’Leary made one of the most valuable contributions of the 2014 season when he kicked the equaliser in the drawn All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo at Croke Park.

But O’Leary suffered his injury setback on a training camp last June and has been on the sidelines ever since.

14. Ronan McNabb (Tyrone)

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Tyrone may have attracted some unwanted press in 2015 but the Red Hands had some standout performers nonetheless as they progressed to an All-Ireland semi-final.

Ronan McNabb was one of them, emerging as one of the team’s most consistent performers throughout the qualifiers.

But McNabb faces a road back to full fitness after undergoing surgery in October for a partial tear of his anterior cruciate knee ligament, an injury sustained while training with his club Dromore in September.

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