WHEN TADHG DE Burca felt a pop in his knee 20 minutes into last December’s All-Ireland hurling final, he instantly knew he’d torn his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) again.
De Burca was familiar with the popping sensation, having suffered the dreaded injury in the same knee while playing for his club Clashmore-Kinsalebeg in September 2019.
Had it not been for Covid, the centre-back might have missed Waterford’s 2020 season but the delayed championship gave him enough time to recover. He battled back from the initial cruciate injury to lead the county to their first All-Ireland final appearance since 2017, when disaster struck again.
“I knew straight away it was the cruciate again, I heard the pop,” he says. “I was weak after it.”
Sitting in the Hogan Stand among the Deise substitutes with almost three quarters of the final still to play, he tried to focus on the game.
But it was hard to stop his mind wandering to the lengthy rehabilitation process that lay ahead, having only just recovered from the injury that keeps most athletes out for around nine months.
“There weren’t great thoughts going through the head, knowing you are going through that nine month process again, even longer. A lot of rehab to be done and hard work. The first thoughts weren’t great.
“We weren’t going too well in the match either. Limerick were always those few points ahead in the game. That made it worse again.
“An All-Ireland final is one of the biggest days of your career. At the back of your mind, you are thinking you’re after doing your cruciate and you have a long few months ahead.”
The first time his cruciate was repaired they took a graft from his patella tendon. The second operation saw the surgeon take a hamstring graft to reattach the ligament in his knee, meaning his rehab is slightly different this time around.
“After the first cruciate I was back running after three and a half months,” he recalls, “this time around it’s five months because you need time for the hamstring to heal. A lot more emphasis on the hamstring this time and trying to build that up and get it stronger again.”
Over five months post-surgery, de Burca resumed some straight-line jogging last week.
He’s fully focused on making his return in the Waterford intermediate club championship later this year with Clashmore-Kinsalebeg.
“Sometimes you are fine with the rehab, some days you question the knee; is it where it is supposed to be? Sometimes the mental challenge can be difficult enough, but this year is different to the last time in 2019 where I was trying to rush back for inter-county.
Tadhg de Burca pictured at Croke Park at the launch of PwC’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the All-Stars. Ireland’s most prestigious sports awards were first presented in 1971.
Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE
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“This year, that kind of pressure is off. I know I won’t make inter-county, I’ll just try to be getting back for the club in maybe September, October. The pressure to get back isn’t as much as it was the last time around.
“I have taken a break from [being involved with Waterford] this year, just focusing on myself, trying to get the knee back right.”
He’ll be a frustrated spectator as Waterford begin their Munster campaign against Clare at the end of the month.
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“Obviously you want to be part of the panel but I wouldn’t begrudge anyone [success]. Hopefully they do their best this year and I’ll be shouting for them.
“I’ll be taking a backseat really but I’ll watch the matches alright and be cheering the lads on. I won’t be getting too involved with it, I’ll be trying to focus on myself and get myself back right again, get right for the club.
“I’ll definitely watch the matches and I’ll have a strong interest in how championship goes first of all and obviously how Waterford get on too.”
De Burca believes there’s every chance that champions Limerick will be taken out this year, with a number of contenders capable of beating them on their day.
“Obviously Limerick are a serious team, it does look like they’re to the fore this year but I still think Galway are a serious opposition for them. Galway have that physicality to match them that way if they get their scores on the board I wouldn’t be surprised if Galway beat them this year.
“Also you’ve Waterford weren’t bad, Kilkenny have never gone away, they’ll be a serious opposition to anyone this year, Wexford, and like I said it’s very hard to know with the league this year how any team is going to go in the championship.
“But I wouldn’t be saying Limerick are clear-cut favourites. There will definitely be teams that put it up to them, maybe even beat them.”
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