Hurling and camogie

Antrim hurler Paul Shiels on the comeback trail

Paul Shiels has returned to action following a hip injury 

PAUL ‘Shorty’ Shiels’ has revealed his desire to sample playing hurling at the highest level again was his motivation to come back from a career-threatening hip injury.

The 28-year-old Dunloy hurler has endured a nightmare 18 months but feels there’s light at the end of the tunnel and is targeting a National League return with Antrim next month.

Regarded as one of the most talented hurlers of his generation, Shiels has had the misfortune of having to undergo major surgery on both hips – the first in 2009 and the second at the beginning of last year.

He missed Antrim’s 2016 campaign and played just 15 minutes of Dunloy’s club championship defeat to Ballycastle at the end of August.

At times during his rehab, Shiels felt like walking away from the county scene to concentrate on his club career.

“You begin to doubt yourself and I was thinking that maybe county hurling wasn’t for me,” he said, “just the demands of it, and I was going to concentrate on the club.

“But while I’m still able to play I want to play at the highest level possible. If I’m going to play at all I’m going to play for Antrim.

“I suppose when you’re playing county from U14 right through you know no different.

“That’s where I’m at at the minute. I’m training away with the boys but the management aren’t putting me under any pressure. They want me to come back whenever I’m right.”

Shiels hasn’t ruled out getting a bit of game-time in Antrim’s final Walsh Cup group game against DCU in Jordanstown on Sunday but being fit for their National League campaign is his priority.

“I played 15 minutes at the end of the club championship [against Ballycastle] which was a bit of a gamble. At that stage I was told I wouldn’t do myself any damage, so we thought it was a risk worth taking at the time but unfortunately it didn’t work out.

“But the fact that it wasn’t sore after playing those 15 minutes gave me encouragement going into the winter time. I used to wake up the next morning in agony but I felt fine.”

Pilates and patience were two things that helped Shiels to get back in the frame for 2017.

“I found the pilates very helpful,” he said. “I still do it. My sister-in-law has a place in Magherafelt and she would keep on top of it. I enjoy it. It’s great for hip problems. It’s not too strenuous.”

Problems with his hip first surfaced in April 2009.

Shiels was complaining about a groin problem but Antrim’s physio team suspected that the pain was emanating from his hip.

“It actually came on very quickly,” Shiels explained.

“It was April time 2009 and we were playing down in Laois – ‘Woody’ and Terence McNaughton were in charge then too.

“I was doing rehab for a groin problem and it wasn’t going away. Fergal Leonard was physio at the time and he had an inkling that it might be a hip problem. So I got it scanned and it turned out it was.

“You’re well-informed before the operation. The surgeons re-shape the ball socket at the top of the leg, smooth it off and carry out some micro-fractures to encourage growth in the cartilage.

“I had a tear in my cartilage as well which was the reason for the sharp pain…

“It was exactly the same thing that happened to my other hip in 2015... I remember after the first hip was operated on the surgeons told me the chances were high that the other hip would go as well.”

A host of the Antrim minors of 2006/07 had serious injury problems.

Minor team-mates Shane McNaughton and CJ McGourty underwent exactly the same hip surgery as Shiels, and although they’re still in their peak years it’s doubtful either player will play at the highest level again because of problematic recoveries.

Aaron Graffin also suffered hip problems while Cormac Donnelly and Neil McManus had back trouble.

Shiels acknowledged that the rehab process was torturous at times.

“When the boys were training during the season I was training the same nights. There were a few early-morning sessions which I would’ve done before work and then I’d do a gym session at night.

“There was an eight-week period where I really went strong at it. It was coming towards the club championship and I thought I would be maybe fit to make it back.”

He added: “The thing about rehab is that you’re doing it on your own, and it’s having the motivation to do it yourself, especially when the rest of the boys are out on the pitch.

“It is boring; you’ve seen all the gym programmes and the stuff you have to be doing. It’s just a matter of getting up and doing it.”

Antrim’s main aim this season is to gain promotion back to Division One hurling.

They face London (h), Carlow (a), Kildare (h), Armagh (a) and Westmeath (h) in their Division 2A campaign which begins on February 12.

“I’d be looking towards the National League, if I can get myself in good enough shape,” Shiels said.

And the Cuchullain’s man is delighted to be returning to the fold with his former minor managers, Terence McNaughton and Dominic McKinley, at the helm again alongside Neal Peden and Gary O’Kane.

“They are Antrim people and they’re not interested in anything other than getting the best out of us. There are no hidden agendas. They want to see Antrim back in Division One and back up in the McCarthy Cup.”

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Hurling and camogie