‘There was just blood everywhere… I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy’

A RUPTURED ACHILLES tendon? Most of us know of that injury, particularly given a few high-profile examples in rugby in recent times.

But a lacerated Achilles tendon? Even more horrific.

When Ireland 7s international Greg O’Shea looked down at his leg after falling off a bicycle in Montauk, New York in 2015, he initially wasn’t sure what had happened.

But he knew it was bad.

“I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, it’s terrible,” says the 24-year-old, who helped Ireland to secure a place on the World Rugby Sevens Series for next season. 

O’Shea in action for Ireland 7s in Hong Kong earlier this month. Source: Yu Chun Christopher Wong/INPHO

At the time, O’Shea was in his third year with the Munster academy – usually, players only stay in academies for three years – and he could have been forgiven for thinking that his rugby career was over.

“It was insane,” says O’Shea of the injury. “It’s not like rupturing it. When you rupture it, you blow the fibres and then they eventually grow back in together. But I actually fell off the bike and kicked the cog of it, which is the disk, you can see it there… the scar.”

O’Shea’s scar is an impressive one, showing the combined after-effects of the laceration and the surgery that followed. 

“It was just like getting a knife and cutting your Achilles. There was just blood everywhere and I went to put my foot on the ground and your leg doesn’t work without your Achilles, so your foot just flops.”

Shannon RFC man O’Shea, who was visiting an ex-girlfriend when the injury occurred, rang home to tell Munster the bad news as soon as he could. 

A flight back to Ireland, an operation at the Santry Sports Clinic performed by the highly-regarded Johnny McKenna. O’Shea was told he wouldn’t be right for a year.

To his surprise, Munster handed O’Shea – predominantly a wing in 15s rugby – another chance by extending his academy contract for a year.

“They stepped up and said, ‘We really like you as a player and we’re going to give you another year,’ which, hand on my heart, was so nice of them. They could have easily told me I wasn’t getting a contract.”

O’Shea, left, won the B&I Cup with Munster in 2017. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

O’Shea got back on the pitch six months after his injury but he didn’t feel right until a year had passed, the power in his leg not returning initially.

For a man who was an international sprinter in his teens, it was mentally difficult to feel like his body wasn’t working for him. O’Shea admits it was a tough period that took a lot out of his family too.

But he eventually found his fitness and power, doing his best to convince Munster to bring him into their senior set-up. It wasn’t to be. 

O’Shea has no hard feelings towards the province, understanding that the back three competition ahead of him – Simon Zebo, Keith Earls, Darren Sweetnam, Alex Wootton and Ronan O’Mahony, among others – was severe.

“Munster stuck their neck out for me when I got injured, gave me another year and backed me as a player,” he says.

“They’re all great people down there and I’m still in contact with loads of them. The back threes at the time when I was looking for a development or senior contract were insane.

“There were just too many there and unfortunately I couldn’t make the cut.”

But as one door closed, another opened for O’Shea. The IRFU reached out to him about joining their sevens programme and he jumped at the chance.

“They stepped up, said they wanted me and I committed to them. It’s not breaking the bank with sevens but it’s enough to keep going and it’s paid off.”

O’Shea has joined Rugby Players Ireland’s executive board. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

O’Shea studied law in the University of Limerick during his time in Munster’s academy and he remains diligent in pursuing further education alongside his rugby commitments. 

“The plan is to become a solicitor once I retire. That’s the big plan, but I’ll do it in little steps!”

He’s going to have “a crack off” his FE1s in October, with Rugby Players Ireland helping him to find balance between rugby and study. Indeed, he has just become part of RPI’s executive board, understanding the value of the organisation.

O’Shea is a Shannon RFC man through and through. His grandfather, Bill, and father, Niall – as well as several uncles – are club diehards, while his first cousin, former Ireland U20 flanker Kelvin Brown, is playing with nine-time AIL winners.

O’Shea wasn’t involved this season due to his sevens commitments but it pained him to see Shannon relegated from Division 1A.

The Limerick man was a hot prospect in sprinting as a youth. Both his parents sprinted for Ireland, so the genes were strong. O’Shea finished sixth in the 100 metres at the 2011 European Youth Olympics when he was 16. 

There was consideration of pursuing athletics but rugby felt like “a better career prospect” and O’Shea went on to win a Munster Schools Senior Cup with Crescent College Comprehensive in 2013 – having won two Junior Cups with the school – helping him to earn a place in the province’s academy straight out of school.

O’Shea, left, sprinting at the All-Ireland Schools Championships in 2011. Source: James Crombie

Despite the athletics background, O’Shea says he isn’t one of the pace men now in sevens.

“I haven’t sprinted time-wise since I was 16 but I feel stronger. I’m a different athlete. In 15s, it was like ‘he’s the fast guy’ but in sevens, I’m more middle of the ground.

“Compared to the likes of Terry Kennedy and Jordan Conroy and other guys on the Series, they just have stupid speed. These guys are some of the fastest I’ve ever seen, they’re crazy athletes.”

Having played for Ireland at U18, U19 and U20 levels, O’Shea has loved being back in the green jersey in sevens.

He initially struggled with injuries in the seven-player code due to the volume of high-intensity running involved in the training and missed out on selection for the Hong Kong Qualifier tournament last year.

Earlier this month, however, O’Shea was a key man as Ireland earned their spot on the Series, scoring four tries in the tournament – including one in the final victory over hosts Hong Kong.

Next up for Ireland are two legs of this season’s Series – London on 25-26 May and Paris on 1-2 June – as the invitational team before the first leg of the Rugby Europe Grand Prix Series later in June.

The biggest focus, however, is potential 2020 Olympics qualification at the European qualifying tournament in France on 13-14 July, where the winning team secures a spot in Tokyo. 

If Ireland don’t win outright but finish second or third, they will have one final shot at Olympics qualification at a repechage tournament in 2020, but the fact that they definitely have the Series to look forward to next season means exciting times are ahead.

“The thing with the sevens is that it’s 10 destinations around the world,” says O’Shea. “We’re obviously not going to be there on holiday or to have a party but you get time off, you can’t be training the whole time, and you get to see these places.

“In Paris, you see the Eiffel Tower; in Hong Kong, you see Victoria Peak. It’s amazing and we also have such a tight group of players. 

“Sevens is now giving a pathway for younger lads coming out of school. Not everyone can get into an academy or a sub-academy. It’s essentially another way, have a crack off the sevens and it’s really enjoyable.”

Gavan Casey and Murray Kinsella are joined by Andy Dunne to get stuck into last weekend’s Champions Cup semi-finals.:

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