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 Shaunagh McCarthy, Wilton Utd, battling Niamh Coombes, Kilkenny WFC, before she joined Cork City.
Shaunagh McCarthy, Wilton Utd, battling Niamh Coombes, Kilkenny WFC, before she joined Cork City.
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Cork City's Shaunagh McCarthy back in action after 417 days out injured

IT just so happened that the morning Shaunagh McCarthy was free to do this interview was the morning of her 21st birthday.

After initial pleasantries were exchanged, and birthday well wishes were passed on, the question of how she was planning to celebrate this significant occasion was asked.

“I’ll just be going for a meal and then preparing for our next game, I have training tonight like and I couldn’t take training off,” said Shaunagh.

 Cork City U17 and senior players Hazel Walsh, Jesse Mendez, Maria O'Sullivan, Shaunagh McCarthy and Lauren Walsh, at last year's awards. Picture: Larry Cummins.

Cork City U17 and senior players Hazel Walsh, Jesse Mendez, Maria O'Sullivan, Shaunagh McCarthy and Lauren Walsh, at last year's awards. Picture: Larry Cummins.

Following 417 days on the sidelines after suffering a serious Anterior Cruciate Ligament injury in what she describes as a “freak accident”, McCarthy is eager to make up for lost time, particularly as it was initially hoped she would return much sooner.

“They were thinking I would be out for nine months before my operation,” she said.

“But they realised there was actually more damage done than they thought once the operation started.

“When I came out of surgery, the next morning the doctor said ‘yeah, it’s definitely going to be longer than nine months’.

“That was pretty heartbreaking to hear. It was a bit of a freak accident, I just fell and I tore my knee.

“I was only 10 games into the season last year and that was my first season playing so I was devastated, I thought I was going to miss all of this season as well.

“At the start, my knee just wouldn’t straighten for about four months so I was walking around with a bad limp. But with intense physio three or four times a week and the doctor’s help we were able to fix it.”

During this difficult period, the defender was able to turn to teammate Lauren Egbuloniu, who was also recovering from a serious injury, for comfort.

But two months into her rehabilitation and on the day of her 20th birthday, McCarthy received a huge boost in the form of a letter from Arsenal footballer Hector Bellerin.

“My brother organised it. It was just the most surreal thing ever I couldn’t believe it,” she enthused.

“He had the same injury so it was really nice that he knew what to say. I’m a big Arsenal fan so watching him come back was really motivating. I thought if he can do it, so can I.

“It’s framed up on the mantlepiece at home, my dad is weak for it because he’s a massive Arsenal fan as well, he shows everyone it when they come into the house.

“It was always in the background during our lockdown zoom calls, the girls used to joke me about it half the time but the letter was motivation for me.

“Myself and Lauren got very close through our injuries. We both understood what the other person was going through so if I had a problem she knew what was going on, she was a few months ahead of me in my recovery.

“She is a very nice person ... motivating me the whole time just telling me that there were only a few months left, to keep going and she was a really big inspiration even though she is younger than me.”

With that help, it was only ever a matter of when not if she would represent the club again. She finally returned to action in her side’s recent away victory against Bohemians and her aim now is to play as many minutes as possible.

“I never really had the thought that I would never make it back. In my head, I was always going to get back,” she said.

“There were a few bad days when I thought ‘oh my god, why am I going through this? Is it worth it?’. But in the end, it was definitely worth it.

“I’m delighted to be back now, it was a really long time away from it. It was hard mentally, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. My first game back I was in awe, I couldn’t believe it was actually my time to come back onto the pitch.

“It was great to have the girls’ support when I came on, they gave me a big cheer and as soon as I stepped onto the pitch Mac (Ciara McNamara) and Danielle Burke were straight over to give me a high five and tell me I’m well able to do it. I was ready so I was delighted.

“Cork City is a massive club and I am so grateful to play for them. Pulling on that jersey every week makes me so proud.

“I’m just hoping to get as much game time as I can this season to build myself back up and establish myself again.”