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Morgan Treacy/INPHO Kieran O'Leary lifts Sam Maguire after Kerry's win over Donegal last September.
# Comeback Kid
From lifting Sam to a ruptured Achilles, 16 weeks out of work and cheering on Kerry
It’s been a contrasting season for Kerry’s Kieran O’Leary.

ON JUNE 5th last, Kerry’s footballers were winding down their warm-weather Portugal training camp with one final in-house game at their Vilamoura base.

Kieran O’Leary gathered the ball and went to pop over a point when the ball bounced back off the upright. Seconds later his 2015 season crashed to a halt on that Friday morning.

“I went to react and get the ball, and I went down like someone shot me,” recalls O’Leary.

“I turned around and remembered James O’Donoghue was next to me, I thought I’d been hit really hard in the ankle by someone.

“But no one had challenged me and I knew straight away it was serious.”

A ruptured Achilles tendon in his left leg was the verdict. There and then, O’Leary had to write off the rest of the year and put thoughts of playing on the back burner until 2016.

Rewind twelve months and it was this weekend where he kicked the most significant point of his career. Chances are your memories of that drawn Kerry-Mayo game involved Donaghy’s catch and O’Donoghue’s goal.

But it was O’Leary’s composure in injury-time in nailing his shot from the Hogan Stand side that rescued Kerry.

Kieran O'Leary scores the equalizing point Cathal Noonan / INPHO Kieran O'Leary's equalizing point for Kerry against Mayo. Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

Kieran O'Leary celebrates with Declan O'Sullivan Cathal Noonan / INPHO Kieran O'Leary celebrates that point with Declan O'Sullivan. Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

Contrast then to now.

This year he’s plodding along the rehab route. On Sunday O’Leary will be in the dressing-room in Croke Park but it’s as a bystander with a tracksuit top rather than a protagonist in playing gear as Kerry go to war with Tyrone.

Still there’s shafts of light peering out of that tunnel after a fair few hurdles have been overcome. Initially there was the problem of being injured in the Algarve and having to travel home to Kerry.

“The Kerry medical team were fairly on the ball when it happened,” says O’Leary.

“They’d my leg in a boot straight away, they were fairly sure it was a partial or full tear.

“I was able to get a flight home the following morning and got through the plane journey.”

Fionn Fitzgerald and Kieran O'Leary lift the Sam Maguire trophy James Crombie / INPHO Kieran O'Leary lifts Sam Maguire last year with Fionn Fitzgerald James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

After landing home, a scan in Santry gave O’Leary the stark diagnosis. He went under the knife on Wednesday June 10th with Dr John McManus doing the repair work.

The following Sunday, Kerry trotted out for their 2015 championship opener but O’Leary was far from the heat of Semple Stadium.

“I wasn’t able for it just after the operation so I actually went back to Inch Beach that day with my fiancée. We’d a bite to eat and then listened to the game on the radio in the car.

“It was weird, I hadn’t planned to start the 2015 championship that way.”

O’Leary’s pitch plans being thrown into chaos was one thing, there were also off field problems to contend with.

“I wasn’t mentally prepared for what the injury would bring. After it happened, I was told I’d be out of work for 16 weeks.

“I started a new job with Liebherr in Killarney in February and then this happened. I’m getting married New Years Eve next year so there’s plenty of worries when you’re out of work.

“But Liebherr have been great to me, I can’t thank them enough. Having that security about work was a relief.

“It was tough to pass the time as I was in the boot for a good while. Mentally it was a big challenge.

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“I went bananas into boxsets, got stuck into The Wire and Game of Thrones. You’d have plenty callers as well, I spent loads of days just drinking tea!”

Gradually there were signs of recovery. He slipped into a routine of gym work and sessions in the pool.

On Tuesday and Thursday nights, he heads to Fitzgerald Stadium and while the Kerry squad are sweating on the pitch, the 28 year-old is pushed through rehab sessions by physios Eddie Harnett and Ger Keane.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice with physio Eddie Harnett Cathal Noonan / INPHO Kerry manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice with physio Eddie Harnett Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

“I’d go to the club gym in the Crokes a lot during the week and I’m back driving as well, as I’ve an automatic car.

“Luke Quinn is a club mate and he’s done his cruciate so we’re going through the work together.

Luke Quinn celebrates with the cup Cathal Noonan / INPHO Luke Quinn celebrates Dr Crokes 2011 Munster club final win. Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

“The achilles is a tough injury to come back from. Donal Óg Cusack is the main other guy that I’ve heard of doing it. I still can’t walk properly, my heel raises in my shoe so I’ve to learn how to do that again.”

Donal Og Cusack lies in pain after suffering an injury Donall Farmer / INPHO Donal Óg Cusack lies in pain after suffering an achilles tendon injury in 2012 Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

Éamonn Fitzmaurice didn’t let him drift away from the Kerry setup and he’s still immersed in the match day environment. Watching on generates frustrations but the comeback path is mapped out and he’s focused on ticking the boxes.

“I was delighted that Éamonn asked me to stay involved. I travelled up with the lads for the Kildare game, you still get to have the craic but you’d love to be going to war with them on game day.

James O'Donoghue, Kieran Donaghy and Kieran O'Leary before the game Morgan Treacy / INPHO Kieran O'Leary with James O'Donoghue, Johnny Buckley and Kieran Donaghy before the recent Kildare game. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

“You’re there for a bit of moral support but you have to keep back in the dressing room and leave them at it. I just have to focus on my own recovery.

“They’ve had a couple of great battles with Cork and it’s great to see them back in Croke Park in August. Tyrone’s going to be one tough game, we know each other so well but I’ll be roaring on the boys, they’ll be putting everything into it.”

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