DANNY VENTRE has paid tribute to Derry City physio, Michael Hegarty (on right) for the influential role he played in his recovery from a knee injury which threatened to prematurely end his season.
The Liverpudlian made his long awaited return to action following a cartilage operation, when entering the fray as a second half substitute against Limerick when replacing the injured Dean Jarvis at right back.
And with the 2014 FAI Cup Final looming large, it was a timely return for the midfielder as he makes a last ditch attempt to force his way back into Peter Hutton’s team after almost eight weeks on the sidelines.
And Ventre said he had the club’s medical staff to thank for keeping his cup dream alive with special praise reserved for Chartered Physiotherapist and current Coleraine midfielder, Hegarty.
“It’s been six or seven weeks since I had my operation,” said Ventre. “And it’s all down to Michael, our club physio. He’s probably the best physio I’ve ever been involved with. He knows his stuff and wouldn’t let me push myself too far. He just kept me where I needed to be. And then he told me that I needed minutes now if I wanted to be involved in the final.
“The knee is stable now,” he added. “I wouldn’t have been involved on Friday otherwise. There would be no use in risking it. It wasn’t really an intense game when I came on and it’s not as hectic playing right-back as it is in midfield when you’re always twisting around.
“My knee felt a bit strange after the game, but I haven’t had any reaction to it over the weekend so it’s all good.”
Ventre reckons he sustained the injury during Derry’s UEFA Europa League defeat to Shakhtyor Soligorsk at the Stroitel Stadium in Belarus last July.
However, he didn’t feel the full effects of the torn cartilage for several weeks afterwards when Hegarty recommended he visited Ulster rugby surgeon, Richard Nicholas.
“I was playing with the injury for six weeks before I realised what I had done,” he explained. “I think I did it when we were playing in Belarus.
“I felt something in the back of my knee but I played a lot of games after that. I was playing a lot at right-back and I was just getting through the games.
“I just thought it was coming from a tight calf or my hamstring because that’s where everything joins at the back of your knee.
“Afterwards, for three or four days, my knee was throbbing and before you know it there was another game, just when the pain began to die down.
“That’s when I said to Mickey (Hegarty) that we needed to scan it because it wasn’t right.
“So I got the scan on the Friday and then I was in to see the specialist on the Monday and went in to have an operation one week later.
“Luckily I didn’t do any damage to it by playing on. It was only a tiny tear and the specialist was able to clean it up and tidy it up a bit.
“Richard Nicholas is a knee specialist for the Ulster rugby squad and he was brilliant.”
Hegarty suffered a similar injury while playing for Coleraine, therefore, he was well positioned as both a physio and player to guide Ventre through his rehabilitation.
“Mickey is still playing as well so he knows what he’s talking about,” continued Ventre. “Some physios have never kicked a ball but he’s had the same operation in his knee as well.
“He’s able to tell me everything about my recovery and everything he’s said has been spot on.”
With regular right-back, Shaun Kelly cup tied, Ventre sees the problematic position as his best chance of featuring against St Patrick’s Athletic on November 2nd and he’s hoping he can do enough in the final two games of the season to cement his place in the team.
“Barry Molloy has filled in at right-back for the semi-final but the manager has chopped and changed so it’s really down to me to get myself into the team.
“If ‘Pizza’ gives me the minutes then I’ll do my best to try and get into the team.”
The former Sligo Rovers midfielder has won the FAI Cup three times with the Bit O’Red against Shamrock Rovers (2010), Shelbourne (2011) and last season in that five goal thriller against Drogheda United,
On his first final appearance in 2010, Ventre explained that he was fortunate to get his place in the starting line-up as he benefited from an injury sustained to Richie Ryan at the time.
And he’s hoping he can take advantage of City’s lack of options in that right-back position and appear in the FAI Cup for Derry in his first season at the Brandywell club.
“I know Shaun Kelly is cup tied so, hopefully, I can get into the team for the final. A couple of years ago I think it was 2010 with Sligo, Richie Ryan was suspended and I got his place in the cup final team so anything can happen.”
Having watched the dramatic scenes in the final minutes of the semi-final against Shamrock Rovers at Brandywell last week from the Glentoran Stand, he was delighted that his teammates extended their season and gave the fans something to cheer about after a disappointing campaign.
“I was done in after that game (Shamrock Rovers), I felt like I was playing,” he recalled. “I’ve never been so excited to watch a game.
“After the start to the season we’ve had, it’s all going well now and, hopefully, we can give something back to the fans and save the season with a cup final win.
“To be totally honest, with the players we have playing for us, we should be higher up in the league and we’re certainly good enough to win the final,” he concluded.