LAUREN EGBULONIU was disappointed at the end of April last year when she was informed she would be ruled out of action for up to ten days.
It was a few days after her 17th birthday that the talented striker - not long after breaking into the Cork City women’s senior side - was carried off injured away to Limerick, clutching her knee.
After a quick ambulance journey from Market’s Field to Cork University Hospital, Egbuloniu was initially informed she would need to sit out of her beloved sport for between seven to ten days.
But upon a second inspection, the Cork City physio disagreed and warned it could be much, much longer than that.
Two months of agonising followed before the results of her MRI scan revealed the true extent of the damage.
“I was actually told in school that my ACL was completely torn,” Egbuloniu told the Echo.
“I just burst out crying in the halls. My mom rang me because she got the results. My P.E teacher saw me, she brought me into her room and then dropped me home.
“It was heartbreaking. I was really upset because I just wanted to get back playing.
“The initial news really set my hopes high. It was swollen massively for ages but I didn't really have the symptoms which made me believe it was an ACL tear.
“They usually say your knee feels like it’s going to give way when you put weight on it but my knee didn't feel like that at all. To me, it felt fine walking on it.” Thankfully for the former Springfield Ramblers and Passage forward, she didn’t have to wait as long to undergo surgery.
Just two weeks after the news was broken to her, she had successfully undergone the operation and the road the recovery had begun.
“The day after I got the surgery I started rehab,” she added.
“I was walking on it straight away to help the swelling go down and to build up the strength in my leg.
“The love for the game got me back. Everyone around me helping me so much, being there when I needed them and my mom and my dad, in particular, they were just always there willing to do anything for me.” By the turn of the year, she was edging closer to a return and by February the new season’s fixture list had been announced.
The season opener in March at home to Peamount United seemed a bit too optimistic a target but the next weekend, or the weekend after certainly seemed realistic return dates.
Then the Coronavirus pandemic struck and the long-awaited first game back was pushed even further down the line.
“It was really hard going into lockdown,” admits Egbuloniu.
“I was so dependent on going to the gym to build my strength up and then everything closed and I didn't have the gym equipment at home.
“I had to get some resistance bands off my friends, my sponsor is the Coral Leisure Centre in Cobh so they gave me a couple of weights to borrow so I just had to do a couple of things then.
“I was so happy when they later announced the launch of the season. I honestly thought we weren’t going to start the league at all because the numbers started to rise and I was just like 'I really want to get back out on the pitch'.
“Of course the year I was out injured we would have this then when I’m coming back. I’m so relieved that everything is back now.” After 474 days of disappointment, hard work, and patience, Egbuloniu finally made her comeback from the substitute's bench away to Shelbourne at Tolka Park.
Now her aim is to make up for lost time.
“It was unreal coming back onto the pitch like,” the now 18-year-old enthused.
“I can't describe how happy I was after all that time to just run on and play ball again. I didn't keep track of the days at all, Cork City just put up the figure I thought 'whoa,' even I was taken back by it.
“But I feel more confident now, getting over that initial nervousness from the first game was important.
“Physically I feel way stronger now than I was before the injury because I worked on it, I didn't go to the gym before my injury.
“That match fitness you only get by playing so I'm not fully back to where I was before my injury but that will come in time.
“I love training now, I can’t wait to go to training because I just love playing soccer. I loved it before the injury but now I love it even more.
“Being out for 474 days... I missed it a lot.”