Leinster flanker Kevin McLaughlin eyeing a fresh start

Province’s interim captain raring to go having overcome his injury nightmare

Leinster’s Kevin McLaughlin: “Every opportunity I get now to play I’m going to be unbelievably hungry.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Leinster’s Kevin McLaughlin: “Every opportunity I get now to play I’m going to be unbelievably hungry.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

Kevin McLaughlin will have relished every thumping collision, each one an affirmation that a second shoulder reconstruction surgery process and the tortuous rehabilitation process that ensued, spanning over eight months, had been worth the investment of blood, sweat and a few tears.

Last Friday night in Donnybrook, he led a Leinster team to a 68-0 pre-season victory over former Ireland international Kevin Maggs’-coached, English Championship side Moseley. McLaughlin played the opening 40-minutes demonstrating his aptitude for hard graft.

Many sportspeople suffer multiple injuries but the 30-year-old has endured a surfeit of misfortune in that regard that started in the formative years of his career. An outstanding schoolboy player, those setbacks have left him with a modest total of eight caps, one that might have been much higher.

In recovering from the latest shoulder operation – he also had a couple of hernias repaired earlier in the summer – McLaughlin faced perhaps the greatest test of his mettle. “That last shoulder injury was extremely mentally challenging. There were times throughout the eight-month period when I thought my career was over and I just couldn’t seem myself getting out of it.

“It wasn’t getting any better at all. I had all sorts of tests to see what was going on. It was just an extremely slow process and I never had an injury like that where I wasn’t making progress. It was more a mental challenge than a physical challenge if I’m being honest.”

He was indebted to the care of Leinster’s medical team and especially the physiotherapists whose role was part pastoral at times. “They were probably like psychiatrists as much as rehabbing me because I was spending hours in the physio room every week.

Second Captains

Making progress

“I think that’s just the nature of those types of injuries. It was the second time I’ve had my shoulder reconstructed. It’s just a lot slower the second time and it’s something I’ve never been through before. I’ve had horrific injuries but they had all sorted themselves out.

“You’re always hanging on to hope that it will come good, but you have to be thinking to yourself that if this ends now then what’s next?

“I think every professional rugby player who gets a bad injury goes through that period where they’re questioning what’s next? What am I going to do? How am I going to deal with retirement, mentally? I did go through that a few times and luckily I’m out the other end now.”

A turning point came in April. “I was able to do my rehab exercise properly and I think I took contact properly for the first time at the end of May and was able to hit something without getting pain down my arm. I realised then I would play rugby again.

“Every opportunity I get now to play I’m going to be unbelievably hungry. I don’t want to leave rugby with any regrets, so it’s very much a case of whenever you get a chance to play over the next couple of seasons you grab it with both hands.”

Interim captain

Leo Cullen

It’s a role he’s fulfilled before. Given the nightmare of the past two years there’ll be nothing sweeter than a run of games; well maybe a run of victories. “It’s an exciting period for me personally and the team with a new coaching team in place. Hopefully we’ll have a chance to put right what happened last season.

“In the seasons we’ve been successful in the Pro 12, we’ve had very successful periods when the internationals were away. So that’s a massive focus for us, these seven games, starting with the first two-game block. The focus is on getting two wins there, and then building on that going forward. Hopefully have the club in a good position when the internationals do get back. It makes it a lot easier for them to integrate back in then.”

Last season still smarts.

“It was a real tough pill to swallow. And it was something that I think will narrow the focus and already has this summer. Obviously getting a change of coaching staff has mixed things up a bit. . . I’m hoping it’s going to change things for the good this season and that we have a very successful run.” A fresh start all round.

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