Rugby correspondent Colm Kinsella talks to Felix Jones as he returns to fitness after his latest injury setback
THERE’S a haunting photograph of Felix Jones sitting on the ground at the Aviva Stadium last August with a vacant look in his eyes. The Munster full-back’s dream of playing in the World Cup is over.
Jones was seen as a genuine bolter to make Declan Kidney’s squad for New Zealand, but the foot injury he sustained in Ireland’s warm-up game against France would scupper those ambitions. He knew his fate from the second the impact took place.
“I have heard enough crunches and stuff during my time playing to know that it was bad. I knew straight away, pretty much, that my chances of playing in the World Cup were over,” Felix Jones said.
“Obviously, there is a glimmer of hope, but I knew when I tried to stand up that it was serious. There was some amount of stuff going through my head at that stage.”
Jones has spent a total of 21 months on the sidelines recovering from three separate serious injuries since joining Munster in the summer of 2009. The foot injury he picked up against France saw him sidelined for close on six months. The 24-year-old has played just 17 times for the province over two and a half years, but such has his impact been that the former Seapoint player that he is a real crowd favourite.
One of his low points came in December 2009 when Jones suffered a career-threatening neck injury. Looking back on that period, he admits he contemplated his future in the game at that time.
“With the neck injury, I remember lying in the bed, staring at the ceiling, wondering what am I doing here. Rugby is a game. You want to be able to play football with your kids when you eventually have them,” Jones revealed.
“But I never got to that stage this time round. There was anger and frustration there definitely, but I never thought it would end my career.
“You draw strength from people around you. You have a lot of inspirational guys down here. For me, this time, it was made easier by the fact that Fla (Jerry Flannery), Wally (David Wallace) as well, Troy (Smith), Mike (Sherry) and Keith (Earls) were injured at different times.
“There were guys coming in and out. When you see those guys putting in the same effort, going through the same thing, you know you are not on your own.
“Having been through a serious injury before didn’t make it any easier. You are more familiar with aspects of it. There are certain stages you go through with long-term injury. Initially you feel quite angry and stuff, but you get over that. You become quite determined. When you are at the very end of the recovery process and you are getting so close to coming back, that can be quite frustrating as well. You are nearly there, but you are not quite.
“When you are declared fit, you think ‘brilliant’ and you want to be doing the things that you think in your head you should be but your body is not ready yet. It takes another couple of weeks for the sharpness to come. It doesn’t get easier. It is tedious.”
The all-action full-back made his comeback on Friday night when his club side Shannon faced Young Munster in the AIL. Jones enjoyed the experience of playing in his first big Limerick derby. The fact his housemate Ian Keatley made his Young Munster debut in the game added a degree of spice to the occasion.
“I am living with (Ian Keatley) as well. It was weird. Three hours before kick-off we were saying ‘right, see you later’, wishing each other the best of luck and knowing the next time we’d see each other on the pitch, we’d be trying to ‘kill’ each other in a ruck. That was weird.
“Coming back home together, we were having a great laugh. Playing in a game like that is different for other reasons as well. The guys who have grown up in Limerick and were involved in the game see it as such as a great rivalry. Myself and Ian were coming into two clubs we didn’t grow up with.
“Having said that, you throw yourself full-on into the rivalry and you get fully immersed into it. It was brilliant.
“I was fully aware how serious the game was for both sides. If you were in our changing room afterwards, you could see the disappointment. I treated it as any other game.
“It was an intense as a RaboDirect PRO12 fixture. The boys put in 100% effort and that is all you can ask.
“It was a great match to be involved in. Pity about the result for our (Shannon) point of view.
“It is brilliant to be back. It has been another long stint out. Any time you come back from injury it gives your whole morale a lift. You come in smiling, knowing you are involved in the group again. That’s the main thing.”
Jones’ comeback from injury will take another step forward this weekend. He will either be involved in Munster’s PRO12 tie with Treviso in Italy or for Shannon in their AIL clash with St Mary’s College.
“I would love to be involved in Treviso, but that’s up to Tony (McGahan) to decide. Whatever is best for me, whether it’s getting game-time there or with Shannon again, I will be happy either way,” Jones said.
“I just want to get back on the pitch again and again. I am in a similar position to where I was last year. I came back. People were asking me about playing in the World Cup. But talk of playing with Ireland (this summer) is out of my head at the moment. My first objective is to play well for whatever team I’m involved in, whether it be Shannon or Munster. I will take each game as it comes and each weeks as it comes. Hopefully I will perform and let that do the talking for me.”