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I fear for Rory's Open hopes, says ex-football star with same injury

By Ivan Little

Published 08/07/2015

A crocked Rory McIlroy on Monday
A crocked Rory McIlroy on Monday
Physiotherapist Brian Strain, a former star of Irish League football, is suffering from the same ailment
Rory McIlroy with the Open trophy he won at Hoylake, but the defence of which is now in doubt

One of Northern Ireland's top sports physiotherapists has warned that it could be three months before Rory McIlroy's injured ankle is healed.

And former Glentoran and Portadown footballer Brian Strain knows precisely what the world's number one golfer is going through in the wake of his rupturing of a ligament in his left ankle during a football kickabout with friends on Saturday.

For by a bizarre coincidence Brian, who is the physio for Northern Ireland's Under-17 international squad, suffered a similar injury to the same ATFL ligament as Rory on the same day during a football match in Belfast.

Rory now faces the prospect of losing millions of pounds at a number of lucrative tournaments including the Open at St Andrews where he was due to defend his championship in nine days' time, though he said he hadn't given up hope of a return.

Brian (50), who graduated as a physio in 1987, was playing in a charity game for a veterans' team called Northern Ireland Masters against Carrick Thistle on Saturday when he damaged his ATFL ligament on the 3G pitch at Seaview, home to Crusaders.

Brian said: "It's the sort of ligament injury that is a best-seller in casualty departments. I understand that Rory turned his ankle on his own but mine was different. I was going into tackle a guy when my foot sort of planted on the pitch and my weight came over it"

Brian, who runs the One 2 One physiotherapy practice on Belfast's Cregagh Road, realised immediately that he had damaged the joint and ligament.

"I knew I had sheared through a bit of it," added Brian, who captained Portadown to three Irish League championships and two Irish Cup wins during 15 years at Shamrock Park, not far from where Rory's uncle Mickey McDonald was a star for mid-Ulster rivals Glenavon.

Brian said his injury was not as serious as Rory's. "A rupture is classed as a grade three. Mine is a grade two with damage to some of the fibres. But the treatment of all ankle sprains is the same.

"The early management of a ligament injury is all-important. You have to immobilise it and it needs loads of ice, compression through firm strapping, elevation and rest.

"Rory is protecting his ankle with a 'boot' and I have mine in an air-cast brace which gives me a bit of compression to try to keep the swelling at bay.

"If you can minimise the swelling and the bleeding early on, that gets you off to a really good start and that can save you weeks later on."

Rory has already had a scan of his ankle and is due to have another shortly. But Brian, who sustained a serious injury to his right ankle during his playing career, said the accepted advice for most ligament injuries including ruptures was for them to be treated 'conservatively' with a reluctance to rush into surgical repairs.

"Most people advocate giving the injuries time to heal with functional rehabilitation rather than surgical intervention," added Brian, who said he couldn't believe that he and Rory had suffered injuries to their left ankles just a few miles apart on the same day. Brian, who was playing for Bangor when he retired 10 years ago, said he held out little hope that Rory would be fit in time for The Open in Scotland.

He said: "By and large you are looking at a minimum of three months' rehab for an injury like Rory's.

"It could also take another month or two on top of that to get it right.

"The inflammatory stages alone can be up to three weeks when you are still having the potential for swelling and pain and if you overload the ankle during that stage, it's going to react with even more inflammation.

"You really want to get through that phase without annoying the injury too much. The big thing to avoid is overstressing the ligament because you want the fibres to knit and you don't want to cause a laxity in the ligament.

"If that happens the chances of a recurrence of strains and damage to the joint increase and that is why you are better to give any high grade injury time to recover.

"You have to go through all the stages at the appropriate timescales so while the ankle is healing, you can gradually start loading it more and putting a little bit of stress of it. But normally that is three weeks or more down the line."

Brian said that all the money in the world couldn't normally accelerate the repair of a ruptured ligament. "Obviously I don't know the full extent of Rory's injury but I always tell people that we can facilitate healing but we can't speed it up," he said.

As for Brian's own injury, he said it was too early to say what the future held.

"I am hopefully going to get my colleague Daryl to have a look at me," he said. "The first three or four days are all about management of the injury so that is all I am doing at the minute. We will assess and reassess it as the days and weeks go on."

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