That’s how long it was between Daniel Menzel’s 21st and 22nd AFL games for Geelong.
— FOX SPORTS News (@FOXSportsNews) September 9, 2015
Menzel was just four days short of his 20th birthday, when on 9 September 2011, his right knee went out from under him as he contested the ball in a final against Hawthorn.
It was an innocuous incident, but Menzel was clearly in significant pain as he clutched his right knee, which suffered from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear.
Dr. Clare Ardern of Apestar, an orthopaedic and sports medicine hospital in Doha, Qatar, tells upstart that an ACL tear is one of the worst injuries an athlete can endure.
“[The ACL’s] main role is to provide stability for the knee, particularly in demanding activities like sport that require lots of twisting, turning and jumping,” she says.
“Apart from the fact that the giving way usually prevents athletes from performing at their best or executing the skills needed for sport, these episodes of giving way also put the cartilage of the knee at increased risk of further injury.”
It’s this risk of further injury that cost Menzel so dearly.
After the initial injury, he tore the same ligament in his other knee on return to Geelong’s reserves team in June 2012. This was further complicated in December 2012, when he fell victim to the same injury while doing a pre-season drill, then again in April 2013 playing for Geelong’s VFL side.
Ardern says that each subsequent injury to the weakened knee makes it more difficult to heal.
“After one ACL injury, the knee can recover pretty well, but every time there is another ACL injury, it gets harder and harder for the knee to recover to the previous level,” she says.
“We’ve seen that it has taken Menzel a long time from starting his rehab to going through the VFL to finally getting back to AFL level, it just takes additional effort every time to get the knee back to where he needs it to be to perform at AFL level.”
Arden also says that these injuries have historically ended sporting careers, for example David Schwarz, who had three ACL reconstructions on the same knee.
“Schwarz is one AFL player who had multiple ACL injuries, and his injuries ended up bringing his career to a premature end,” she says.
However, Adern says that advances in medicine will give Menzel hope for a substantive career.
“One thing in Menzel’s favour is that surgery and rehabilitation is better now than it was in the 1990s when Schwarz was having his,” she says.
“In rugby league, Nik Kosef had four ACL reconstructions, two on each knee, before the age of 28. He returned to play in the NRL after the fourth reconstruction but later admitted that he probably should have retired earlier than he did.”
Menzel also suffered psychologically because of his repeated injuries.
“There’s always a psychological component to recovering from any injury, whether it’s an ankle sprain that stops the athlete playing for two weeks, or an ACL injury that stops the athlete playing for a year,” Ardern says.
She says that Menzel’s determination was a key factor in his recovery.
“How confident athletes feel about returning to sport predicts whether they return to their pre-injury level after ACL surgery,” she says.
“Mental resilience is important for most aspects of sport, so it makes sense that it is also important for coping with injury and returning to sport.”
Menzel said his support network instilled this confidence in him.
“To be perfectly honest I never actually thought that we wouldn’t get back to this point. I think that’s because I’ve had such a great network around me,” he said.
“I reckon I’ve got the best physios and fitness staff here, and the club’s always been so good to me.”
Geelong have supported Menzel through his lengthy rehabilitation, and are set to underline that support with another contract.
Both Menzel and the Cats will be confident he can repay the faith.