PLAYERS and athletes from all sports battle to return to action following anterior cruciate ligament injuries.
It’s tough and lonely and for Na Piarsaigh senior hurling star, Patrick O’Rourke, the rehabilitation has begun, as he tries to get fit for the new season.
GAA all started for Pa, as he is affectionately known, as a seven-year-old, and living in Bridevalley, across the road from the club, was convenient for him.
“I used to puck the ball around and one of the club stalwarts, Jim O’Sullivan, came over and asked me to join and, for many of my younger years, I enjoyed the summer camps at the club,” said O’Rourke.
“My mother and father never played hurling, but I suppose it came from my grandfather, Liam O’Connor, who played with Na Piarsaigh and Cork up to the age of 21, but, just like myself, damaged his knee at a very young age that forced him to retire.”
Donnacha O’Sullivan, Jackie Mannix, and John Gardiner were some of the coaches who helped Pa in his juvenile days, but Joe O’Leary took over for the U16s and minors.
“Joe was a tough-but-fair coach and we won an U16 county with him in 2007 and when I came to playing minor, losing two county semi-finals, to Blackrock hurling and Castlehaven, in football, was very disappointing.”
Pa rarely won medals as a young lad.
“For some strange reason, losing became a habit for us and the only major championship I won was the 2011 city division U21 hurling championship and a senior hurling league medal is all I can vouch for in my career.”
Now 30, he has been playing with Na Piarsaigh seniors for 13 years alongside Aisake Ó hAilpín in Ó hAilpín’s last year, before playing four campaigns with club veterans Seán Óg, Darren Mannix, and John Gardiner.
The lack of success at Na Piarsaigh has been a major debate in Cork GAA circles over many years and the recent rise of their great rivals, Glen Rovers, is bound to upset their loyal supporters.
“It’s a tough one because when you look at the team that included Sean Óg, John and David Gardiner, Mark Prendergast, and Ronán McGregor, you would have thought that squad would have won a lot more,” O’Rourke says.
“Make no mistake, they were a better team than we have presently, but since 2004, the success rate was poor and that’s one I cannot answer.
I am not going to make excuses, but I think any genuine Na Piarsaigh player will admit we have underachieved as a club. For 2021, we have got to look forward and hope things can change for the better.
The commitment is there, says O’Rourke, and with a little more effort he is hoping that they can be competitive in this year’s championship.
“We tend to perform well against the better teams, but, in reality, that’s no good, as consistency is a key when you are playing senior hurling."
This year, Na Piarsaigh have Colin O’Sullivan at the helm, and he will be joined by O’Rourke’s father, Liam, James O’Connor, and Mark O’Sullivan, but the pandemic is hurting their preparations, as it is for all the other clubs in this country.
O’Rourke agrees you need to have a consistent flow of players coming through the club system.
“Coming from minor to senior is a massive step and I think we have witnessed, not alone in Na Piarsaigh, that players that were so impressive as minors have hit a brick wall in the senior grade.
“To be a quality senior player, you have got to have special dedication, as you have to do your own work outside of training to ensure that you are in the best condition possible.
“I think, when you look at Patrick Horgan, he is the one example that working hard pays off, as he is presently one of the best players in this country and that’s credit to his work ethic over many years.”
There is plenty of work going on in Na Piarsaigh to ensure their status in the top flight.
“Sean Óg has put in savage effort with the underage teams over many years and he can put together some outstanding training sessions and is the right man to give the youth of Na Piarsaigh the platform to compete at the top level."
The facilities at Na Piarsaigh are up there with the best in the country and O’Rourke is hoping that a new breed of hurler and footballer can be nurtured by the many volunteers at the club.
Look, I think, when you name people in an interview, it can be tricky, because in a club the size of ours, you have so many unsung heroes and I commend them all for their work.”
Nearly 12 months to the day that Pa O’Rourke kicked a football near the end of a game and injured his cruciate, he is hoping that his return to action will be a success but is also prepared for bad news.
“I actually didn’t get the surgery until July, due to the pandemic, and if it wasn’t for the Covid, I would be training with lads right now, doing some non-contact work.
“The work I have done with Declan O’Sullivan has been good and now it’s a case of hoping that I make a full recovery, as I am determined to help my lifelong club.”
Pa and his partner, Emma, are awaiting the birth of their first child and we wish them both the very best luck.
Although Pa O’Rourke hasn't collected as many medals as he'd have liked, few would argue about his ability and commitment to his beloved club.