Ryan King's last kick of the 2014 season was one he will never forget. Not only did the defeat to Limavady relegate his beloved Faughanvale to the junior ranks but even though he didn't know it at the time it tore his cruciate ligament. The pain of defeat was much more painful that the state of his knee.
Playing in an Ulster Final is a special occasion in anyone’s life but when you make a comeback from injury it has to be that bit more satisfying. Standing in the corner of the Faughanvale clubhouse Ryan King gave us an insight into what drove him back. The journey back from injury can be a lonely one and will test the character of anyone.
“It happened in the Limavady game when we got relegated, it was actually the last kick of the game but it’s wasn’t diagnosed until January. The MRI didn’t pick it up and I knew it wasn’t right so I went to Belfast for a second opinion and I got the worst news possible – that my cruciate was gone. That was January and on 30th March I got my operation,” King outlined.
Six and a half months later Ryan King enters the fray in the drawn county final against Drum. “Joe asked me to come on board as part of the management and to keep me involved. It’s good crack being along the sideline but it’s not the same as playing. It’s harder to watch than play.”
King started the last game against Templeport and outlines the influence of the younger players. “I started at full forward and ended up around midfield where I am used to and it’s great to be back. It’s great to play alongside these young lads, they are carefree, they are full of energy and drive everybody on.”
As you scratch the surface we soon find out what really drove King on during his rehab. He was very much on a mission. “I was part of the team that got relegated to junior and I was determined to be part of the team that got us out of it. That was my big drive I wanted to give a hand in any way I could.”
King’s preseason was slightly different from the rest. “I was attending Colm O’Neill [physio] in Bridgend and every Friday I went to the cruciate rehab class in Altnagelvin which then progressed into wee drills at the side of the pitch and eventually back into contact.” That’s Ryan King’s story and it shows what can happen if you want something bad enough.
King is at one end of the scale, he is one of the older generation but highlighted the input of the younger players. One of younger crop is full back Michael Sweeney and the photo of him in the clubrooms wearing the red and white of Derry shows the regard he is held in around the ‘Vale.
When you chat to him you can see that carefree approach, the exuberance of youth. After the county final Sweeney admitted he had never even heard of Brackaville [first round opponents]. Since that his outlook on the Ulster championship has changed.
“After winning the Derry championship the management drummed it into us that we were not there to make up the numbers. At the start of the year we set out our goals of promotion, the Derry championship and Ulster and at that stage Croke Park would be one game away. Then we ticked off our goals as they came.”
Sweeney’s insight tells us the difference setting goals made. “Last year was a bit of a kick up the arse and everyone knew we needed to do something this year. In the past we were just papering over the cracks and sailing by, sitting mid table in intermediate not pushing to get promoted or to go anywhere in the championship. When the championship day came everyone tried their hardest but we had no aims set out of what we were going for.”
Sweeney may be young but he has his head screwed on and can see the different approach and the rewards it can bring but insists the management are central to the success. “They must take a lot of credit, with the two boys [Shay Murrin and Michael McLaughlin] coming in from outside and Joe’s a link with players and management. They are all used to winning and with the young boys coming through used to winning.”
“It brings more of a winning mentality to the club and everyone wanted to do well this year and win whatever was put in front of us. In Ulster every match is a big match and when you win those games you know they were hard fought for.”
Looking ahead to Sunday Sweeney is expecting more of the same. “I don’t really know much about Rockcorry; I was chatting to boy who was at the last match and they are a big physical side. I haven’t seen any videos yet but the management will have. Monaghan football is on a high at minute with the county winning Ulster, Scotstown are in their final and Monaghan junior football teams been in most of the finals. It will probably be the strongest team we have faced so far and another big game but hopefully we can get over the line.”
As he concludes his interview and heads to training he gave us a quick insight into the Gaffer. "When Joe is playing you wouldn’t know he was the manager; he’s just a leader within the team. He doesn’t shout across at Michael or Shay. He leaves it to them during the match, trusts them and can get on with playing his game.”
On Sunday Michael Sweeney will lineout with number three on his back, full back and part of the new generation of footballers. At the other end of the pitch will be Ryan King, the miracle man back from the dreaded cruciate scourge. Both men are generations apart showing the perfect blend of youth and experience in this team.
Sweeney recognises this. “There are young boys running around after games with flags looking up to us the way I used to look up to older players when I was that age.” On Sunday Sweeney and King will run out of the tunnel together at the Athletic Grounds – different ages, different paths but both with a common goal. The club championship is special and Faughanvale are embracing it.