AIDAN Nugent can look back and laugh at the irony now. The day before he opened his new recovery room business in Armagh city, he tore his cruciate. As well as showing clients the benefits of his new venture, he’d get to try them out himself as well.
The Cullyhanna attacker knew instantly that something wasn’t right when he caught the ball and turned in a Senior B match against Grange at the tail-end of July last year.
It meant watching from the sidelines as Armagh earned promotion to Division One, and watching on helplessly as they faltered badly against Donegal in the Ulster Championship semi-final.
Now that 2021 has arrived, the goal-poacher has his eyes set on returning to the field – although he is not putting any definitive date on when Orchard county fans can expect to see him back in action.
“We were playing club game against the Grange about two weeks out from championship,” Nugent said of the injury.
“I caught a ball that was fist-passed to me, I went to turn and felt the pain. I knew something was up and I figured I had done my cruciate. I badly damaged bones inside my knee and I had damaged my cartilage so there were a few different things.
“I got the operation and I’m four months in now. It’s slow but I knew it would be, so I had myself well prepared for it.
“I started my own business (recover8mobility) in August, the day after the injury, so that slowed things up a bit. I’m teaching three days a week as well so I’m keeping busy.
“It’s a bit ironic to be opening a recovery room and then for that to happen.
“I was just getting going but I’m shut three months now. I’m hoping when we can open up again we can pick up where we were because it was going well.”
The unscheduled time off has given Nugent time to consider things.
He came to the attention of McGeeney given his keen eye for a goal, but his two years on the panel has shown that there is a lot more to his game than just raising green flags. He started all five championship games for the county prior to his injury.
When he comes back into contention sometime in the middle of this year, he wants to have even more to offer his county.
“I tried to get into the right mindset straight away,” he said. “I looked at it as having nine to 12 months and I could use that to come back stronger and hopefully a better all-round footballer.
“I knew I was going to miss the football so I wasn’t too down about it. I actually enjoyed going to training and seeing the boys pushing on. That gave me the motivation to go to the gym and do my rehab work.
“It was tough watching on last season knowing I could have been taking part but I got my head around that quick enough.
“My overall strength is probably something I have tried to work on. The way the game is going everyone is getting stronger and faster.
“Even though I did have a starting place, there were definitely boys who weren’t getting their place and putting the work in behind the scenes. When I do return I hope I have a bit more power behind me.
“Scoring is obviously still the main thing I want to do so when I do get back hopefully I can get a solid two, three months of shooting left foot, right foot – just nailing down the basics.
“I’d like to think that I’ll be ready for action maybe around April or May, but that’s if everything goes according to plan.
“A date is probably at the back of my head because if I start thinking about a date and miss it you could get down about it. So I’m just taking it each week and seeing those slight improvements.”
It’ll be a very different Armagh sideline when the action does resume this season.
McGeeney will still have Denis Holywood alongside him, but Jim McCorry, Paddy McKeever and John Toal have all departed. Three-time Kerry All-Star Kieran Donaghy has been added to the ticket although it’s likely that ‘Geezer’ will have to take in at least one more coach.
Nugent paid tribute to the departing trio.
“It’s sad to see John and Paddy and Jim go,” he said. “I was only there two years with them but they were always there on the phone, they were always there at training to help you.
“I suppose the ways things are going, and we are in a pandemic, work schedules don’t suit and things like that, so you have to respect all those decisions.
“Kieran Donaghy is coming in now and you know he is going to bring a different perspective and he has a winning background. I’m looking forward to getting back on the pitch and working with him.”
Meanwhile on panel ins and outs, the return of clubmate Ross McQuillan from Australia has been extremely pleasing for Nugent.
It means that three of the starting Cullyhanna forwards – Jason Duffy is the other – are all now serious starting options for the county, and Nugent is confident McQuillan can really make his mark after calling time on his Australian Rules career.
“He was a super player before he left but he has come back now having been in a professional set-up and he’ll come back twice the player,” said Nugent. “He’ll have that bit of leadership in the team.
“Any county or any club in Ireland would like to have him on board, especially with his pace. He can change a game up in a split-second with one attack.
“The downside of the AFL is that they catch those players before they start showing their potential to the whole of Ireland, and that’s what happened Ross. He was poached at 19, 20 when he was just getting going. There’s no reason why he can’t break into the team and make a huge impact.”