Rugby Union: Geoghegan gingerly back in the running

Simon Turnbull finds the Irish flyer keeping his sore feet firmly on the ground
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The Independent Online
After seven months in the shadows, Simon Geoghegan stepped back into the spotlight on Thursday night. Not that the floodlights at Brierton Lane, West Hartlepool's home, were particularly bright. It was only just possible to identify the track-suited figure who trotted on to the pitch midway through the first half. The sidelines, clearly, were no place for such a hyperactive bundle of human beef and bone as Bath's - and possibly the Lions' - bucking bronco of a wing-in-waiting.

After 22 minutes tethered to the replacements' bench, the first opportunity to get on to the field was seized upon, even if it was simply as the bearer of isotonic refreshment for the panting Bath pack while Jon Callard set his sights on bisecting the posts at the other end. With 24 minutes to go, the number 15 was held up, Jon Sleightholme headed for an early bath and Geoghegan - sleeves rolled up, socks rolled down - was back on the scene at last. If only it had been a month or two earlier, Ireland might not have been in need of so much Lucozade to aid their recovery from the Five Nations' Championship.

As it happened, he suffered the fate that has become so frustratingly familiar while playing for the land of his Galway fathers. He touched the ball twice, on neither occasion with the remotest chance of showing Jim Telfer, who watched his every move from the back row of the main stand, that the galloping Geoghegan of old had not been slowed by the surgeon's knife. Telfer's report to Ian McGeechan, whom he will assist with the coaching in South Africa, and to Fran Cotton, the Lions' tour manager, could state no more than the obvious: that the Knebworth man with the Irish roots is fit and well and raring to go.

If Geoghegan is given the green light on Wednesday to go with the Lions there will be no shortage of those accusing the selectors of having a screw loose. That is more than can be said of the player himself. Since undergoing surgery to have seven millimetres of bone removed from his arthritic big toes after breaking down at Orrell on the season's opening day, he has had screws in both digits. "It does hurt," he said, having emerged from Bath's bath on Thursday night, "but I was walking with a limp for two years before I had the operation. I was in a lot more pain then. Anyway, I get the screws taken out in the summer and that will give me some more relief."

The fact that Alan Tait has recovered from the same operation ought to afford additional relief as he looks to his rugby-playing future at 28, six years after exploding on to the international stage. As the lights went out at West Hartlepool, though, Geoghegan could not see the immediate prospect of a place alongside Tait in the Lions party, a long-awaited chance to become only the third Ireland wing since Tony O'Reilly to play in a Test for the Lions (following Niall Brophy and Trevor Ringland).

"Yep," he said, "it was very encouraging to be selected in the provisional squad. But I wouldn't expect to be in the final party. I haven't played any rugby. I had 80 minutes in a friendly on Tuesday and then half-an-hour or so as a replacement tonight. I'm just looking to get in as many games as I can in the run-in to the end of the season and to enjoy playing again.

"It has been disappointing, being out for so long , but rugby's not everything. I haven't given up my job; I'm still a solicitor. I've done other things. My priority now is to get back into the Bath team and to play regularly. But coming back, after the surgery I've had, is going to take some time. I'm going to need quite a few games not just to get match fit but get confident as well. Realistically, I'm looking at trying to build up for next season."

With that, the formerly grounded wing was gone. In the light which shone from the clubhouse you could make out the hulk-like shoulders and familiar charging gait. Jon Sleight-holme had been first out of the dressing-room traps. But his replacement was making up the lost ground, rapidly. In the shadows at West Hartlepool, Simon Geoghegan was galloping again.

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