Vital to get cruciate rehab right
Trevor Giles recalls dealing with similar injury and returning to even greater things
Trevor Giles enjoyed massive success with Meath after returning from his cruciate ligament injury: “Because it’s so common, surgeons are doing a lot of operations and have become very practised at it. I think recovery rates are 97 or 98 per cent, or even closer to 100,” he says. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Trevor Giles is the exemplar of how to overcome the trauma of a cruciate injury. Footballer of the Year, twice All-Ireland medallist and multiple All Star winner, he is currently a Meath selector and a physiotherapist.
“It happened to me in the 1998 Leinster final,” he remembers. He went away and got it fixed – simple as that – and was back with Meath in time for the following year’s championship. He acknowledges that being a physio was an advantage.
“It was a help. I knew the exercises well, which was a big help. It’s a chunk of time and means you often miss a season. I was 23 at the time and while it crossed my mind that my career could be over it wasn’t a real concern.”
Coincidentally, playing against him in that Leinster final was another All Star, Dermot Earley, who at a later stage of his career sustained the same injury. He recalls the solitary rehabilitation regime.
“It’s pretty much every day in the gym, starting with step-ups, weight-bearing exercises, hops, jumps and box jumps leading on to running and sprinting. You have to build up the quad and hamstring so they’ll take the pressure off. It’s a lonely road but it has to be done.
“I’ve heard of people who did the rehab half-heartedly and they had problems for a long time afterwards.”
Earley, who retired last year, was older than Giles when the injury befell him four years ago. He was unlucky in that the procedure didn’t work first time for him and before he was properly rehabilitated, he did the cruciate again.
“Mine were connected. The first graft off the patella tendon didn’t take and although I didn’t know, I had a constant pain in the knee but that was there before so I wasn’t too worried.
“I remember I went down a step and there was a wobble and I thought, ‘that didn’t feel good’ and so I went back and had to go again, this time with a hamstring graft, which weakens the hamstring and that needs more work.”
Giles is upbeat about the prospects for Colm Cooper even though the latter’s age profile is the same as Earley’s rather than his. Even so, he acknowledges the recovery period can be lonely and tortuous.
“It is but the injury is so common these days there’s lots of advice and back-room teams are excellent and the support for Colm in a big county like Kerry will be very good, between the physios and the strength and conditioning advice.
“Mine was reasonably straightforward in that they didn’t have to remove cartilage. It was a ruptured ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and it was fixed. The operation can be more complicated but your rehab is in very good hands.
“Because it’s so common, surgeons are doing a lot of operations and have become very practised at it. I think recovery rates are 97 or 98 per cent, or even closer to 100.”
There were even benefits – however unlooked for – in the long lay-off: “The year out sharpened my hunger and I was very enthusiastic to get back. It also gave me time to improve my flexibility, which hadn’t been great.
“I worked hard when I was out and it gave me a lift when coming back to think, ‘well, no-one’s done the work I’ve done’.”
Not only was Giles’s rehab experience about as expeditious as could be hoped for, his return within 12 months was a triumph.
By the end of 1999, he had won a second All-Ireland medal and a county title with Skryne, become Footballer of the Year and played in Ireland’s International Rules triumph in Australia that autumn.