Rising Ulster star Farrell fired up after long wait
Last season was to have been the big breakthrough for highly-rated Ulster prospect Chris Farrell. Instead it turned into something of a nightmare.
An anterior cruciate ligament tear, picked up last September while on duty for Ulster's Under 20s in their first ever inter-pro series-clinching victory against Munster, ended his 2012-13 campaign almost before it had begun.
The player who had starred in pre-season training was one for whom then-new coach Mark Anscombe had big plans. At the time the Kiwi expressed his huge disappointment by saying: "Chris was one of the developments this season."
Anscombe's predecessor Brian McLaughlin was another who had high hopes for the Fivemiletown teenager.
A year earlier, in the summer of 2011, he told me: "We have a great prospect in Chris Farrell. He really looks the part."
Fate intervened to derail all of that, alas, when the inside-centre suffered that ACL injury. He found himself sidelined and it very quickly became obvious that 2012-13 was a write-off.
Six weeks on crutches gave way to seven months of slow recovery and rehab.
Finally he is ready to start making up for lost time; his fight for a place in Ulster's midfield is under way and with class acts like Luke Marshall and Stuart Olding ahead of him in the pecking order the 20-year-old knows he will be up against it.
He is raring to go. Leinster await on Friday night at revamped Ravenhill and Farrell cannot wait to face the old enemy.
It was against them that he made his Ulster senior debut at the RDS on Boxing Day 2011.
He was one of five young northern debutants that day, four of them in the back line. The others were fellow-centre Michael Allen, stand-off James McKinney and full-back Peter Nelson. The fifth youngster making his bow was loose-head Callum Black.
Last season, while Farrell watched on, Allen, Nelson and Black went on to add to their Ulster appearances while McKinney – now back in the Ulster fold – spent time in England.
There is nothing in the 6ft 4ins midfielder's demeanour which suggests he is anything other than wholly upbeat with regard to his ability to make good the damage caused by a season in dry dock.
"It's been nine months – more than that – and it has been tough," he admits.
"But I was always confident I would come back given the quality of the medical treatment we get here. I never let my head down, really."
While others have high expectations of him, even those are dwarfed by the demands he makes of himself.
"I think I have more expectations of myself than any that anybody else puts on (me)," he says.
"I really just want to get some confidence from this first game. I am confident; at the minute I'm just having fun so hopefully I can show that in my play. I'm really looking forward to this game."
Farrell – a Schools' Cup winner and try-scorer in the 2011 final in the colours of Campbell College – appears not to be fazed by the fact that he is playing catch-up after missing a season. That said, he concedes that the progress others made while he was away had been difficult to stomach.
"It was hard to watch at times, seeing younger players come through and do really well," he reveals.
The fact that his eagerly awaited comeback is against Leinster is a plus for him.
As he sees it, there is no better opportunity to make your case than against rivals who pipped you to the title last time out.
"I don't think you can ever call it a friendly," he smiles.
"A lot of the boys are still a bit raw from the RaboDirect final last year so I think this will be a real tester for us and a good indicator of how deep and how strong our squad is.
"I haven't looked any further than the first game. For me it's about playing with my head up and trying to assert myself in this team, this squad, straight away. It's important for me to have a good few games at the start and get some game time.
"I'm going to be a bit rusty but hopefully I can get some confidence from this first game.
"There's a lot more to achieve; I've only got three competitive caps so I'm really looking forward to putting some more on that number and increasing my personal tally."