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Keeping mentally sharp has been a priority for Joey Carbery on his long and winding road back from injury. 

The Munster out-half hasn't kicked a ball in anger since January 3 2020.

During a Guinness PRO14 defeat to Ulster, Carbery picked up the latest in a laundry list of injuries with his wrist the latest to suffer.

The 25-year old sustained an ankle injury in the lead-in to Ireland's disastrous 2019 World Cup campaign, and would feature sparingly in Japan.

After a brief return for Munster at the end of 2019, Carbery has spent the last twelve months in and out of treatment rooms.

"Yeah, it's been pretty tough," he told Munster Rugby, "Obviously it's not nice being injured but I've been pretty blessed to have such a good physio and S&C team around me.

"It's been great seeing the lads do so well. Obviously I want to be out there but it's been such a good start to the season so far.

"It's never nice being injured, but hopefully things change soon."

Two months into his recovery, matters were complicated even further with the small matter of a pandemic to contend with.

Carbery says that's added an extra layer of complication to his recovery, "Because normally when you're an injured player you're away from the team anyway, but with the pandemic we were all into smaller groups.

"So I wasn't seeing some of the guys in here for a couple of weeks on end, and then you'd run into them and be like 'aw hey, how are you?'.

"But I suppose we just have to be safe and smart look after ourselves.

Neither Munster nor the man himself are putting a timeframe on his return.

However, Carbery seems more upbeat, and certainly more relaxed, about the final stages of his rehab, "It was kind of tough at the start. We kind of hand an end game in sight and then when I didn't hit that mark it was almost more disappointment.

"So this [time] has been relaxed and it's kind of been [a case of] I'm ready when I'm ready. And it's helped a lot."

Players tend to come back from injury saying they've learned a lot about themselves, but in Carbery's case he's taken to just learning.

He's been preparing for life after rugby by taking a Masters course in business administration.

"When you're injured you might have a weekend off and you can go away or something," he said, But [I] haven't been able to do that.

"So I started doing some college - doing a Masters - and stuff like that, so I've been pretty busy with that.

"[I'm] pretty much trying to be in here as much as possible and every day helps contribute to getting back sooner so it's just trying to stay focused that way but college has been a great distraction for me when I'm out of here."

One of the most difficult aspects of his lengthy absence, has been the revolving door of players being injured, patched-up and sent back to war.

However, Carbery has used his time out to build new relationships with some of his fellow unlucky teammates, "It's a been a year since I've played, and guys have come in and out [of rehab], and it's been a bit demoralising seeing them start before you and then come out before you.

"But it's great to have the likes of RG [Snyman] and Neily [Cronin] around. Matty's [Gallagher] joined us as well.

"Obviously you don't want anyone to be injured, but it's nice to have some sort of connection there.

"We get on really well. It's way easier to gym and do our rehab together when there's a group of us. Coffees and stuff like that make a big difference."

Overall Carbery seems as upbeat as one can be after a year on the sidelines.

While a target date for a return remains a mystery, there are encouraging signs.

In Munster's video he's seen working on the training pitch in various scenarios, and he's signalled the importance of staying in and around the playing group.

"The last month or so I've tried to jump in with the backs as much as possible," he said.

"It makes it a bit easier when you're in a team environment to get into all the meetings.

"Just being in with the squad makes a huge difference mentally. It's the only thing that's really gotten me through this, looking to the end and just wanting to get back on the pitch.

"Staying in with the meetings and talking to the coaches help a lot with that, because you can keep clued-in and stay match-sharp.

"Obviously you're not being able to physically do it, but mentally you can kind of prepare for the games coming up.

"That makes a big difference, but then just wanting to get back onto the pitch and back in with the squad makes me very ambitious and very motivated to get back."

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