James Crombie/INPHO
Bad Break

Two hurls, towels, and some quick thinking set Pauric Mahony on his road to recovery

Waterford’s young star is recovering from the broken tibia that looks to have ended his season.

HURLING, LIKE LIFE, often has a cruel sense of timing.

Not even a week had passed since the National Hurling League final. As he did on so many occasions this spring Pauric Mahony led from the front, firing an individual 0-11 as Waterford blew past Cork and clinched league honours for the first time in eight years.

A summer of endless possibilities stretched out in front of the Déise. Cork lay over the horizon again in the Munster semi-final but from every perspective, Waterford had transformed themselves from resilient underdogs into genuine contenders.

The players went back to their clubs. The following Saturday night — two days before his 23rd birthday — Mahony togged out for Ballygunner in the county championship against Ballyduff Upper.

It was a routine win, one which should have been utterly forgettable, but fate intervened to rob this hurling summer of one of its most exciting youngsters.

“It was just one of those things,” Mahony recalls. “I was going through with a ball and the full-back came out and I handpassed to the man inside and momentum brought us together.

“Maybe I turned to try take a shoulder and I opened my leg up then and he came through. It was a nasty enough sight then.

My leg was hanging to one side.

The rest of the story is fairly well known. The game was delayed for almost 20 minutes while Mahony was treated before he was rushed away to hospital.

On the Monday — happy birthday, kid — he underwent surgery on the broken tibia that looks certain to keep him sidelined for the rest of the season.

He’s an expert now in metal screws and plates and rods, hidden away between the three neat scars on his right leg.

That was nearly eight weeks ago and, as recoveries go, it has been so far so good. A recent x-ray showed no complications. He’s back in the gym, doing whatever strength work he can manage. In another four weeks, the crutches can hopefully be cast aside.

GPA Fair Play Campaign Launch Mahony was speaking at the launch of the GPA Fair Play Campaign on Thursday. Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

Even for the sunniest optimists, it’s hard to find many positives in a moment like this but when Mahony re-tells the story, he knows that he caught a tiny slice of good luck.

“I was fortunate that Tadhg O’Sullivan, the surgeon from Ballygunner, was at the game. He came down and popped the leg back in and he made a splint with two hurls and towels and I was straight into a splint.

“That probably saved me a lot of time and pain as well. The adrenaline at the time meant I didn’t feel him popping the leg back in. It was good to get it done there and then.”

“I knew on impact it was broken. I was in a daze on the ground and then there was loads of commotion going on above me because the players reacted. They were nearly worse than me.

“I Iooked down at my leg and knew I was gone. I put my head back and covered my face because I didn’t want to look at it.

One fella thought I had a cramp and he was going to grab my leg and he looked down and he seen it and he quickly ran away.

With his brother Philip also on the pitch — a man who is no stranger to broken bones himself having suffered a double leg fracture last year — it’s no surprise that the extended  Mahony clan were in the stands.

“They thought it was my head first the way I went down, and I stayed still because I knew if I moved it I could do worse damage.

“Within two or three minutes of it happening, my leg was back in place. I was blessed (Tadhg) was at the game.”

It’s symptomatic of his season to that point — and Waterford’s campaign more generally — that the first thoughts into Mahony’s head weren’t trigonometric puzzles based on the angle of what used to be his right leg.

His 1-90 tally made him the joint-top scorer in the league alongside Patrick Horgan. The buzz of the league title was still rippling through Waterford hurling. Instead of writing the next chapter, the most exciting chapter, he had been written out of it before it even started.

“There were people coming in off the sideline and I remember some of them saying, ‘You’ll be grand with the pain,’ and I says, ‘It’s not the pain I’m in, it’s my year over’. Literally pain was the last thing on my mind.

“It was the fact that we were on such a high after winning the league the week before. I suppose I would have preferred that the club games didn’t go ahead because when you’re in the zone with Waterford, you’re in the zone.

But look, that’s the way it goes. It could have happened walking down the road and you have to take it as it is.

He’s had plenty of support: from within the county, from his team-mates, and from others in the game who have been through similar injuries, reaching out with little gestures of encouragement.

There’s plenty of road still to travel — and Mahony won’t even countenance the suggestion that he might be miraculously ready to ‘do a Gooch’ and pull on the number 28 jersey if Waterford make it to an All-Ireland semi-final.

Somewhere out there, on the club camera, is footage of the incident eight weeks ago. His parents have watched it but so far have shielded it from him. It will never make for easy viewing but in it’s own strange way, that few seconds of video is another little thing that can help drive him back to the top.

“My aim is to come back in a better position than when I went out. There’s obviously a lot of time now to work on areas that I would have seen as weaknesses for myself.

“Obviously I’m in the gym a good bit and cycling on the bike so I’m hoping I can come back in a better position than I was going out.

“(The video) would be something I could look back on maybe in five or six months’ time to say, look where you were there and look where you are now.”

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