Alice O’Driscoll chats to GER McCARTHY about her ankle injury nightmare that stopped her playing in four county finals
NOT every fairytale has a happy ending.
2018 was supposed to be Alice O’Driscoll’s year. Her club Castlehaven reached the Cork county junior C football final against local rivals O’Donovan Rossa whilst her West Cork division qualified for a first county senior final appearance against eventual All-Ireland champions Mourneabbey.
These were the moments the 25-year-old had worked tirelessly for since first representing the Union Hall-Castletownshend club as a young child against the boys in her parish.
These were the matches her family and friends would talk about for the rest of their lives.
These were the finals that Alice and her team mates had sacrificed so much to win. Bringing silverware back home was all that mattered.
But it was not to be.
Both Castlehaven and West Cork suffered defeat following replays in each of their respective deciders. Worse still, Alice was forced to watch all four games (bar a late substitute’s appearance for the Haven) unfold from the sidelines.
A mainstay for both her club and division, she suffered a nasty foot injury during West Cork’s senior county semi-final victory over Éire Óg and had to be helped off the field. The primary school teacher didn’t realise it at the time but her season was over.
‘It happened during the second half. I went in to make a tackle and whatever I did, I knew my ankle was gone straightaway,’ Alice said.
‘Up until then, I had never suffered a serious injury even though I played a lot of sport including GAA and basketball. The timing could not have been worse because I was supposed to line out for Castlehaven against O’Donovan Rossa in our (junior) county semi-final two or three weeks later.
‘The timing was absolutely atrocious. My only thought while lying on the pitch was that I had to be fit for the Skibb game. I had to. No matter what it was going to take, I was going to be ready.’
So determined was Alice to be fit for her two upcoming county finals that the 25-year-old didn’t hang about for the final whistle after hobbling off the pitch against Éire Óg. Still dressed in her full West Cork playing kit, the Castlehaven stalwart was immediately transported to the Accident and Emergency ward in CUH for a series of x-rays.
She left the hospital at 4.30am the following morning none the wiser to the full extent of her injury. But the diagnosis wasn’t positive and time was not on the Castlehaven player’s side.
‘At that stage I couldn’t put any weight on the ankle and knew I was in trouble,’ Alice remembered.
‘In the hospital, the initial diagnosis was that it was some sort of ligament damage on either side of my foot. The strange thing was, my outside ligament was relatively ok but the (inside) deltoid ligament was in a bad way. They said that is was very unusual for that to happen.
‘Do you know what the worst thing that was said to me in A&E though? I’ll never forget it. They said I would have been better off breaking the foot.
‘From the moment I got home I immediately put my leg in an ice-bath every hour. I put cream on the ankle every minute I could and walked into the sea every single day in an effort to speed up the healing process. Intensive physio sessions were undertaken as well before I decided on more extreme measures.
‘I travelled to Ennis to see a guy called Brian Enright and use his cryotherapy units. There, I put myself through three sessions in one single day. That involved standing in an ice-chamber amid absolutely freezing temperatures and shaking with the cold in an effort to speed up the recovery. Basically, it was like walking into a giant freezer and standing there for five minutes in sub-zero temperatures.
‘When I first got to Ennis, my ankle was still like a balloon and very sore. By the time I’d finished my Cryotherapy sessions and some intense physio with Brian, the swelling had shrunk. There was hope just a slight bit of hope that I might make it back.’
Unfortunately for Alice, things didn’t work out and she ended up missing both of Castlehaven and West Cork’ s drawn and replayed finals. There was a late cameo appearance in the replay against Skibb but not enough time to make any sort of impact during the Haven’s defeat.
The media attention and huge attendances that her club and division’s finals attracted made standing on the sideline all the more difficult having sacrificed so much in the preceding 12 months. It was hard to take having put in such a heroic effort to be fit for both her club and division’s county deciders.
Her voice quivering, Alice still finds it difficult to articulate just how heartbroken she is at not being able to have lined out alongside her team mates.
‘I was still limping the week before the Mourneabbey final and realised I wouldn’t make it,’ noted the West Cork player.
‘Look, it wouldn’t have been fair on my team mates to even try as I’d have only let West Cork down so I had no choice but to rule myself out. Difficult and all that it was, there was no point in togging out against a team like Mourneabbey unless you were one hundred per cent fit.
‘I felt I had a better chance in lining out for Castlehaven against O’Donovan Rossa but I was still in a lot of pain. Ten minutes was about as much as I could force myself through the pain barrier while wearing a special protective boot. Even then I knew ten minutes was never going to be good enough. At best, I was only at about 60 per cent when I came on. We lost in the end but I was so proud of the Castlehaven girls’ efforts.
‘To be honest, I have been going a bit insane with not being able to play. I missed a whole winter of basketball with Skibbereen as well. I hate going to games and not being able to play. It is heart-breaking not being able to contribute even though my ankle feels fine until I run around for a short bit and have to stop.
‘Right now, I’m waiting on the results of an MRI scan but have taken solace from the fact I’ve done absolutely everything I can to help my recovery. I know in my heart and soul that there was nothing more I could have done. It is just time wasn’t on my side and I have had to accept the fact I missed out on four county final appearances.’
Alice will never be able to turn back the clock and take part in her club’s county junior C final or West Cork’s senior football decider. But her effort and determination to bounce back from such her injury should act as a template for any may male or female GAA player.
Seeing Alice back out on the pitch will be a sporting moment worth celebrating at the end of 2019.