‘SO, can I play on Sunday?’ – that was Laura O’Mahony’s first question after she was told she had suffered a partial tear of her cruciate ligament.
It took a few minutes for the news to sink in.
‘If I had heard someone else had a partial tear of their cruciate, I would have said that’s them gone for the rest of the year, but I wasn’t thinking straight,’ she said.
The Cork senior footballer (20) was in her car on the way home from coaching at a Cúl Camp in Clonakilty in August when she got the call with the bad news: her season was over.
‘We (O’Donovan Rossa) were playing Castlehaven in the county junior B championship the next Sunday and that’s all I was thinking about, but then I got that call and it changed everything,’ O’Mahony explained.
While she was waiting for her MRI result she had convinced herself it wasn’t a cruciate injury, partly because it hadn’t felt like one. There was no loud pop. No sudden shot of pain. It didn’t sound like the usual descriptions from sportspeople who have torn their cruciate ligament.
In fact, O’Mahony can’t pinpoint exactly when she tore hers.
‘I started noticing a pain in my right kneecap when I went back to training after lockdown. The pain would go away once I warmed up,’ she explained, but it was after O’Donovan Rossa’s opening county junior B championship win against Midleton on July 25th that things took a turn for the worse.
‘I didn’t have any pain during the game but afterwards, during the warm-down, my knee buckled. I knew something was wrong, but we don’t know if the tear was there before then or not.’
The MRI result showed O’Mahony had a partial cruciate ligament tear in her right knee, while there was also a possible fracture on the distal part of her right patella.
It was decided not to operate on it, but let it heal naturally.
Still, it’s a season-ending injury that saw the Skibbereen woman sit out West Cork’s historic county senior football championship success, O’Donovan Rossa’s county junior B football final against Castlehaven and she’ll also miss Cork’s upcoming All-Ireland senior football championship campaign.
In the early rounds of the national league, former All-Ireland minor winner O’Mahony was flying high in the Cork half-back line and was very impressive in the Division 1 win against Dublin at Croke Park in February. After that game Cork boss Ephie Fitzgerald said: ‘So far, she has been doing absolutely brilliant. For her first trip to Croke Park, I thought she was fantastic and I was delighted with her performance.’
The signs were encouraging and she looked in contention for a starting spot in the championship, but O’Mahony’s injury rules her out of action until 2021.
‘I was looking forward to this year’s campaign with Cork. I was all caught up with my Leaving Cert last year that I couldn’t fully concentrate on the senior set-up but this year I was taking it seriously, I was in the gym for pre-season, I was going well in the league so it was gutting to get injured, but there are a lot more seasons ahead,’ she reasoned.
O’Mahony’s rehab is progressing well. She’s already noticed an improvement but she knows too it will take time. With gyms shutting under Level 5 restrictions it means her rehab programme will change but given the year it’s been, O’Mahony is taking it in her stride. The aim, she says, is to be back running at the end of January or start of February.
‘Who knows what next year will look like, we don’t know where we will be with Covid, but hopefully if there’s a championship then I’ll be back for that,’ the UCC student said.
‘Once I started the rehab and got into it, it became easier to just move on. Missing out on the county senior final with West Cork and the county junior B final with Skibb did hit me, those two days especially. I’d have loved to have played in those games.’
O’Mahony was still involved though. Her father, James, is part of the West Cork management team and she was there the day the divisional side beat Mourneabbey to win the county senior title for the first time ever.
‘It helped that I stayed involved with Skibb and West Cork, I felt part of it all. I remember talking to (West Cork goalkeeper) Martina O’Brien after the county final win, she said I was going so well and just because I wasn’t playing it didn’t mean that the rest of them thought I wasn’t part of it because I was – and that was really nice to hear.’
The support O’Mahony has received at home, from Skibb, from West Cork and the Cork senior set-up helped raise her spirits and will keep her going through the winter months as she works hard to get back on the pitch next year.