GER McCARTHY chats to latest Muskerry GAA award winner Niamh McCarthy
NIAMH McCarthy put five torrid years of injuries behind her to become a county winner with her club Inniscarra and an All-Ireland camogie champion with Cork.
The latest recipient of a Muskerry GAA award, McCarthy recovered from multiple cruciate ligament injuries to make a name for herself with both club and county.
McCarthy’s story is all the more remarkable considering she was just 14 when her injury issues began yet by the time she reached 21, two senior county club and an All-Ireland senior Camogie medals were tucked away in her back pocket.
‘I was 14 when my first bad cruciate injury in my right knee occurred and it took a year to come back from that,’ McCarthy recalled.
‘In my first game back, my leg gave away again, it was the same knee. I went in for an MRI and it apparently showed that my cruciate was torn and I had to wait four months for an operation. When I went in for it, the surgeon said it wasn’t torn and that there was actually no need to repair it.
‘So, I felt I had wasted the whole of that season thinking it was torn when it wasn’t. Then I came back again and my other knee went. It was a lot to deal with over such a long period of time.’
Recovering from a five-year period of cruciate injuries would be a monumental task for an experienced senior player. The fact Niamh McCarthy was 14 when her injury woes began makes her comeback and subsequent emergence onto an All-Ireland winning camgoie team all the more astonishing.
‘I had huge support at home and everything I ever needed was done for me,’ recalled McCarthy.
‘Rehab wise, that was tough. It was something I had to do on my own though as no one else was going to go to the gym and rehab my knees for me. I suppose, it was tougher mentally on me at that stage because I had to sit there and watch other girls play. All you want to do at that age is play. I was still very young to be unable to play, I mean I was 14.
‘Young people at that age are still only picking up sports for the first time and not being in a position like I was, not knowing if I would ever play again.’
Stepping back out onto a pitch for the first time after five years of gruelling pain, trepidation, setbacks, rehab and, understandably, moments of doubt and loneliness was an extremely difficult moment for the young Inniscarra player.
Admirably, McCarthy doesn’t make excuses about that difficult time. She was afraid. Who could blame her? In the end, she had to be pushed back on to the pitch for UCC before realising she could play again with fear of injury crippling a sporting career that had yet to begin.
‘I nearly had to be forced out on to the pitch because I was very hesitant to play a full game from the start,’ admitted the Inniscarra and Cork star.
‘In my head, I wasn’t going back playing. It was my Mam who said you can do this and you can play again. I was going into sixth year when I had my final cruciate operation and also embarking on my Leaving Cert so had pretty much ruled out ever playing again.
‘It was only in my first year in college with UCC that I played my first proper game of camogie after all the injuries.
‘Obviously, it was fantastic for me to come through a whole 60 minutes having been getting minutes here and there for a while leading up to the game.
‘I wasn’t ever confident enough to start a full game until I had built up ten minutes, 20 minutes and 30 minute-appearances. It was a massive boost to my confidence when I finally got that full game under my belt.’
Thankfully, there is a happy ending to McCarthy’s story after so many years of enduring injuries, surgeries and hospital visits. The 21-year-old third year Pharmacy UCC student bounced back in style, winning back-to-back county titles with her Inniscarra club before playing a huge role in Cork’s 2017 All-Ireland Camogie final success.
‘This year, Inniscarra won the county senior title for the second year in a row and only the third time in our club’s history,’ McCarthy stated.
‘There was controversy over how we won it because we were forced to play four games in eight days which was a lot to take. We played a quarter-final on a Saturday, the semi-final on a Wednesday, the final on the Saturday and a Munster semi-final the day after, on a Sunday!
‘To be honest, we were delighted to win the first county, overcoming Milford in the semi-final, a team we stopped doing five-in-a-row which was huge for us. Then, to come back and win the title for a second time this past year showed we were no flash in the pan.’
McCarthy’s efforts alongside Rena Buckley and her other Inniscarra teammates did not go unnoticed. An unexpected phone call from Cork camogie manager Paudie Murray saw the Inniscarra player receive her first ever call-up to an inter-county squad.
‘2017 was my first year on the Cork camogie senior panel, any Cork panel, having only played my first season as a club player the year before,’ McCarthy admitted.
‘I got a phone call from Paudie (Murray) last December wondering if I would consider trying out for the Cork panel. I made enough of an impression in the league to keep my place on the team and got game time in the championship after that.
‘My feeling at the final whistle after beating Kilkenny in Croke Park was utter relief more than anything else. It was unbelievable to win it, especially with a last-minute point, but having my family there, after everything I had been through, was extra special.’
Few camogie players have had to endure the injuries Inniscarra’s Niamh McCarthy went through from the age of 14 to 19. To come back from that and make the impact she has at both club and inter-county level singles McCarthy out as one of the toughest, bravest and most talented individuals to have represented her county in recent times.
Hopefully, a bright and injury-free future awaits.