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‘Game time is key now, to get minutes under my belt’

February 29th, 2024 8:30 AM

By Kieran McCarthy

‘Game time is key now, to get minutes under my belt’ Image
Ciara O'Sullivan in action on her comeback game for Cork against Kilkenny in the Division 2B national league earlier this month. (Photo: David Ribeiro)

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‘I FELT fairly broken the next morning,’ Ciara O’Sullivan admits, but it was a small price to pay after playing her first camogie game in over 12 months.

She played 42 minutes for the Cork intermediate team in their 2-14 to 1-12 Division 2B National League win against Kilkenny on February 17th last – it was her first game in 371 days, since rupturing her ACL in action for UCC in an Ashbourne Cup semi-final on February 11th, 2023. 

The Newcestown woman knew instantly it was a bad injury – and her hunch was spot on. She damaged her ACL, MCL and meniscus in her right knee.

‘I felt the bone shifting in my knee – that’s how I describe the feeling,’ she says. 

‘I had the ball, but I wasn't turning or twisting, I was just running forward. I wasn’t doing any dramatic sidestep!

‘I knew straightaway it wasn’t good, and I had a fair idea it was my cruciate – I couldn’t move my leg that evening.

‘Orla Coughlan, my physio, was at the game and she did a test afterwards to see if my ACL was intact, and she could tell it wasn’t.’

A subsequent scan confirmed the bad news: O’Sullivan’s 2023 season was over before it had really started. Having started Cork’s All-Ireland senior camogie finals in 2021 and ’22 she was positioning herself as an important player for the Rebels; the two-time All-Ireland minor winner (2018 and ’19) has been involved in the senior set-up since 2020. 

‘I had started the last two All-Ireland finals and I had felt like all my hard work was paying off, that I was really breaking onto the team, so to have to do it all over again will be difficult. That’s the challenge,’ the 22-year-old says, but in those weeks after suffering the season-ending injury those thoughts weren’t on her mind.

‘I couldn’t look that far ahead, or worry about losing my place and worry about trying to win it back; it was just too far away. My priority was to make sure I did everything right, do my rehab and make sure I would return.’

Cork camogie star Ciara O'Sullivan with the O'Duffy Cup the Rebels won last season.


Important note: O'Sullivan is infectiously positive. Instead of feeling sorry for herself, she found positives, and opportunities.

‘What helped put my mind at ease was it was going to be this one season out; I got injured in February and I knew all going well I’d be back for the next season. It wasn’t like I’d be missing half of one season and half of the next. I felt I was still young, it was only one season and it might open the door for other opportunities,’ she says.

And that’s when O’Sullivan planned a summer adventure that would not have been possible if she was lining out with Cork last season.

‘A lot of my friends were going to America for the summer so I decided to join them for a few weeks. I booked that trip not long after the injury, so I knew then I had three weeks in the States to look forward to – we went travelling around California for three weeks, to San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, San Diego, LA and a few more places,’ she says.

‘That holiday was a huge help. Even though it was completely unrelated to my rehab I set it as a goal to work towards; it was nice to have that opportunity that I would never have taken if I was still playing camogie.’

When her friends came calling earlier this month to ask about her plans for the summer ahead, O’Sullivan’s reply was instant: I’ll be playing camogie with Cork. That was always the end goal: get back on the pitch. She had to wait until the start of December to get the all-clear to return to non-contact training, and had to come through a few stickier times, too.

‘There were two moments during the rehab that I felt were very tough,’ she admits.

‘One was when I came home from America, I hit a wall mentally as I was still going to the gym whereas my team was preparing for the All-Ireland senior final. There was such a good buzz in the camp, I was so grateful to be part of the set-up, but then I had to leave the girls after their session and go and do my own thing; that part was hard.

‘Not long after that I got a small setback in my own recovery, I got tendinopathy in the front of my knee. All of a sudden I was doing half the amount of training, lifting half the weights, and I felt I was going backwards instead of forwards.’

O’Sullivan stuck to the plan, and her reward was her comeback game for the Cork intermediate team against Kilkenny.

‘Game time is key now, to get minutes under my belt. Hopefully with the Cork intermediates I will get game time and will prove myself there; whatever happens after that will happen. Getting back playing is the most important thing, and hopefully the year will progress from here,’ she says, and the eventual goal is to earn her place back in the All-Ireland winning Cork senior squad.

‘That would be a goal. I had a chat with (manager) Ger Manley, it was about going down to the intermediates, getting the confidence up and getting minutes under my belt, so I am delighted to be part of that set-up. If things go well and I play well, my goal would be to break back onto the senior team.’

O’Sullivan is also halfway through her final year as a finance student at UCC so there’s college work and exams to factor in as well, but she’s taking it all in her stride. She is focussed on and off the pitch – and eagle-eyed photographer David Ribeiro spotted O’Sullivan had the word ‘win’ written on her left hand during her comeback game. The background? 

‘In the middle of a game and in the height of emotions and competitiveness, it’s just to ground myself, to think about what’s the most important thing that is happening here now and what’s happening next – the most important thing on match-day is to win the match,’ the Cork star says.

‘Sometimes you can get caught up with “Jesus, I missed the ball” or “Jesus, I gave a bad pass”, but the most important thing is to try and win the next ball, and try and win the next battle, and overall win the match.’

The league victory over Kilkenny was a win-win for O’Sullivan – Cork triumphed and she was back in action, and is ready to kick on again and show why she started the biggest camogie game of the calendar for two years in a row.

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