Kilcoo's Johnston brothers return following surgery
KILCOO’S prodigal sons have returned just in time for the serious business of winning championships.
Sunday’s Down SFC final against neighbours Clonduff will be just the second championship match the Jerome and Ryan Johnston duo will compete in this season.
Brothers Jerome and Ryan underwent surgery on their shoulders in March and were out until their impressive introduction against Burren in the championship semi-final earlier this month.
That night at Pairc Esler Ryan joined the action from the bench on 27 minutes, and almost bagged a goal before receiving a black card a minute from time.
But the biggest cheer of the night came when oldest brother Jerome joined the battle on 46 minutes but that was more than enough time to make his mark where he rattled home 1-2.
Sunday’s showpiece against Clonduff seemed a long way away for Jerome after he was injured in last year’s Ulster Club SFC against Kingscourt.
“There is no doubt about it, it is not nice watching football all year, especially as it was getting closer to the championship,” he said.
“At the start I was going alright because I had stuff I needed to finish university but then whenever that ended it was June time and I was watching the Down matches and got the feeling that I would love to be playing.
“At the end of July everyone was really starting to gear up for championship and I was sitting there feeling that I was still no further on.
“I was waiting to see a consultant again to see how long down the line I had to wait. If I said it was easy I would be telling you a lie.”
Since winning back-to-back MacRory and Hogan Cups with Ryan at St Colman’s, Newry, Jerome has been in huge demand.
He played for Down minors, Sigerson for St Mary’s, U21 for Down and Down seniors, all the while having prolonged seasons with his club Kilcoo.
So to go almost 10 months with little or no football came as something of a culture shock for him.
Then, having undergone the operation a week before his brother, his frustration grew as Ryan reacted to treatment much better.
“At times during rehabilitation I asking myself: what is the point? Am I going to get back or am I wasting my time?” said Johnston.
“There were times in rehab where I could see Ryan making further progress – but that is just the way the healing goes.
"I was wondering why is he able to do certain things and I wasn’t at different stages.
“It was hard when Ryan was back at training and I was still standing on the sidelines watching.
"He could do things in the gym and I was always a couple of stages behind him and that was probably the hardest thing.”
The allure of playing Crossmaglen in the Ulster Club Championship as well as finishing his teaching degree, meant Johnston delayed treatment – a decision he regrets.
“Looking back it was the silliest thing I’ve ever done,” he said.
“When I saw the surgeon he told me there was no way around it – that I needed surgery – my shoulder could have popped up at any time.”
“If I was to do it again I would have gone for surgery straight after the Kingscourt game.
But, in saying that, if I had of missed that Crossmaglen game I would have always wondered if I could have I helped the team and made a difference.
"Now I am at the other side and I am aware of the severity of undergoing an operation.” Johnston goes in search of a sixth county championship medal on Sunday, but, having missed much of this season, insists he is as hungry as ever for success.
“I think Clonduff will be there or thereabouts, they will be coming in hungry and who knows how it will pan out. One thing I will say is we are as hungry as we have ever been,” he said.
“We want to win and we are totally focused on what we want to achieve and there will be no lack of desire to win come Sunday.”