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I feared my ACL injury would end my career: Luke Marshall

 

By Jonathan Bradley

In the immediate aftermath of sustaining a knee injury in Ulster's final game of last season, Luke Marshall found himself a little embarrassed.

There was no doubting the pain he'd felt in the joint as he rushed up to make a tackle, nor the worry he felt as he crumpled to the ground, but moments later there was little sign that anything was amiss and, having been carted off, the PRO14 match doctor could find no issue.

Perhaps, he thought to himself, I should have stayed on.

The next time his knee was scanned revealed the folly in that idea - the diagnosis was a torn ACL and almost a year on the sidelines expected.

As Ulster prepare to start afresh in a new season, Marshall knows he won't play any part until the spring, aiming for a return in late March or early April, by which stage there will only be a handful of games remaining of the 2018-19 campaign.

It's part of a wider headache for the northern province, what with Louis Ludik having also picked up an injury in the same game that will linger until November, while they have also just confirmed that star winger Jacob Stockdale has sustained a hamstring injury in training that will disrupt his early season and keep him out until at least the last week of September.

With Irish internationals to be phased back into action in order to peak for Europe as well as the national side's four-game November slate, bodies seem ever so slightly thin on the ground for the early weeks.

Marshall, who tied the knot over the summer, has been keeping things in perspective though, noting that the likes of Marcell Coetzee and Stuart Olding overcame the same injury not once but twice, while new team-mate Jordi Murphy, who did similar against the All Blacks in Soldier Field, reassured him that the time to get the rest of his body right may just extend his career by a season or two.

"When I first heard, my wife was with me," Marshall recalled. "I was very disappointed. For me rugby has always been important but it's only a small bit of my life. Because I was getting married in the summer, it was just one of those things.

"People think it happened in the tackle but it actually was when I was running towards the tackle and it gave way. I think it was ready to go.

"I can remember hearing the crunch. I was speaking to a few people who have done their ACLs and they've felt nothing and haven't even noticed it, it's only when they've gone to move and their legs have given way because they felt no pain. Mine was very sore, I can tell you that."

Despite the huge increase in recovery rate from such injuries in recent decades, there is no doubting their ongoing severity.

Marshall, who had a well-documented series of concussions earlier in his career, admits the thought that he may never get back on the pitch has crossed his mind.

"I said that to Michael Webb, the team doctor at Ulster, if I didn't get back from it then I'd be disappointed but it wouldn't be the end of the world. I just try to look at it that way - it's only rugby at the end of the day," said Marshall.

"I'm realistic, some people say I'm quite negative. Like with this injury, I'm thinking if I don't get back what would I do instead?

"When you play rugby, your career can end at any time. That's not me saying I'm giving up but if you don't know your career can be gone in a year then you're in for a big surprise, and you can see that in how players struggle with mental illness.

"The IRFU Players' Association, that's one of their big things they had last year, you can't put all your eggs in one basket."

A sensible approach no doubt but, despite the long road that stretches ahead, there should still be some distance left to run yet.

Belfast Telegraph

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