Crushing disappointment for Leavy as World Cup dream dies
Complex knee ligaments damage means Leinster man facing a long, uphill struggle
Leinster’s Dan Leavy is tackled by Ulster’s Eric O’Sullivan and Billy Burns at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
As if needed, it was a reminder of how brutal the rugby road can be.
The optimism of coming back from a calf injury and minutes later the career of Dan Leavy came to a crashing halt. The 24-year-old, who will this week have specialists take a closer look at the “complex damage” to his knee ligaments, must readjust his sights to perhaps as far away as the early stages of next season’s European Champions Cup.
The final episodes of the 2019 European Cup and Pro 14 League have vanished for him. The Rugby World Cup has been torn away and Leavy, along with the other injured backrow Josh van der Flier now contemplate their rearranged futures. Van der Flier is expected to recover before Ireland’s series of pre-World Cup friendly matches in August. Leavy is not.
Leinster, in their statement were more than forthright about the extent of the damage after an initial scan, not a position they tend to adopt with regard to their injured players in a more information restricting age of data protection. He has been ruled out for the remainder of the season and into next season to include the Rugby World Cup, was the concise summation.
“It’s unfortunate for Dan. Such a long spell. He’ll have little short-term goals during that, however long it is, six or nine months, whatever it is, that’s the kind of challenge that awaits him,” says Leinster scrumhalf Luke McGrath, a close friend of the Leinster and Ireland backrow.
Along with James Ryan, Noel Reid, Rory O’Loughlin and Ross Byrne, Leavy and McGrath count themselves among the graduates of St Michael’s School in Dublin.
No stranger to injury, McGrath recently spent eight weeks on the sidelines, but on Sunday took himself around to Leavy’s house to watch Liverpool beat Tottenham 2-1. For the Irish flanker it was cold comfort that his team won.
“He’s a big Liverpool fan,” says McGrath. “ I was over in his house yesterday. That was the only good thing. He watched that goal go in the end. He was happy. But he’s gutted. I was absolutely gutted for him, the extent of the injury. He has a long spell out ahead of him. He’s very down at the moment.
“It’s easy to say now but in a few months down the line when he still has months left to go, that will be the challenge for him and that’s why I’m saying a close-knit group needs to be very positive with him and say, ‘keep going, keep the head down’.”
Injury is factored into every rugby career. The timing and extent are the two operative components and, in that respect, Leavy drew a bum deal after just over 10 minutes on the pitch.
Five months before the World Cup and competing in a backrow where few places were certain anyway, Leavy’s confrontational and abrasive style of play was seen to be one of the ingredients Joe Schmidt’s team needed to rediscover how to again be feared.
With 11 caps, his most recent Irish outing was last November against Argentina. He played no part in this year’s Six Nations Championship but was last season central to Ireland’s Grand Slam squad and Leinster’s European Championship triumph before the weekend’s calamitous finish.
“We saw each other after the match but haven’t spoken to him since then,” said Leinster scrum coach John Fogarty. “He’s not in the building today. He’s probably at home trying to figure it out at the moment. All the medics will make a good plan for him and he’ll make his way back.”
Fogarty, who would say no more than that he is “having conversations” about his future, whether it is with Leinster or Ireland, agreed that eyes are turning towards the younger players to fill the backrow void, something Schmidt may also have to consider.
In Leinster Sean O’Brien, Scott Penny, Max Deegan and the again healthy Will Connors all fit the description, Caelan Doris too. The glaring irony for Leinster is the forced exile last season of Jordi Murphy, now playing his lights out at openside with Ulster.
“It’s something we need to get right,” added Fogarty. “We had a mixed performance at the weekend and as coaches, it puts us under pressure to make sure we are selecting the right players. Sean, Max, Scott Penny, Will Connors will hopefully come back soon enough.
“That’s something we need to spend a lot of time on and get right because we need to have better performances than that if we want to win this thing and it starts this weekend against Benetton at the RDS.”
Some players have the capacity to rise and in front of everyone’s eyes become more vital than they were, take the opportunity and never look back. It was Leavy who did exactly that just over a year ago.