“I felt like I had lost my identity, who am I without sport?”

Many talented athletes are often described as ‘all-rounders’, individuals who can try their hand at just about any sport and prove successful.

Clare’s Naomi Carroll is an ‘all-rounder’ of the highest calibre.

By the age of 19, the Cratloe native had represented her county at senior level in both ladies football and camogie, there was a stint with the Republic of Ireland U17 soccer squad, while her hockey skills saw her spiral all the way through the underage rankings and into an Irish senior jersey by 2012.

Her progression through the inter-county rankings will come as little or no surprise, it’s natural for a young women from Clare to have a grá for all things GAA, but playing hockey wasn’t something the 26 year old had ever envisaged as a youngster, and in fact, even after her first few sessions, Carroll wasn’t overly keen on the hockey scene.

“I actually wanted to quit initially because I absolutely despised it, I just said ‘nope, absolutely not’. I didn’t know anybody which was difficult, I just wanted to go back to my friends in GAA.”

Carroll eventually settled into her new surroundings, friendships started to blossom and quickly she discovered she had a knack for the sport. It wasn’t long before she found herself in an Irish jersey, a journey which would see her make her 100th senior appearance in the green and gold last February.

But inevitably, many all-rounders have to make the tough decision of which sport to pursue. Carroll impressively juggled dual inter-county status with a burgeoning hockey career but eventually something had to give, and in 2017 Carroll made the difficult decision to step away from GAA.

The prospect of representing her country at the highest level, was too good to turn down.

It was mixed emotions. I’ve grown up playing with all the girls and they are some of my best friends so when you can’t commit to it, it is tough. I love playing GAA but the idea of playing hockey for Ireland and representing your country is something that really excited me and I knew I couldn’t turn it down.”

A fierce competitor, fueled by an insatiable love for sport meant the good times kept on rolling for Carroll. But in 2018, Carroll would be handed the two biggest tests of her career to date.

The first devastating blow landed in the summer of 2018, when Carroll just missed out on selection for the 2018 Women’s World Cup. Carroll with 110 senior Irish appearances to her name, was named as a non-travelling reserve.

“To be honest it was heart-breaking, it was really tough. I had trained for so long and it’s something I had been working towards, so to get that disappointment, it’s hard.”

“I felt like I had let my friends and family down. I had tried really hard to make the squad and so much goes through your head like ‘am I just not good enough?’ There was some long, dark days there but I am so lucky to have great people around me who kept reminding me that I’m not a failure which was really important.”

“But like anything else you have to deal with it and support the girls. I was over there for the semi-final and final and I was at the homecoming and it was lovely to be part of it in some way. It was an amazing achievement, making a World Cup Final and I was extremely proud of the girls. ”

When one door shuts, another opens and Carroll jumped at the opportunity to get back to her GAA roots and when she sprung from the bench in the All-Ireland intermediate ladies football quarter final against Meath, she was keen to make an impact. Unfortunately, an innocuous side step delivered the second major blow of the summer, a ruptured ACL.

“It took me a couple of weeks to find out that I had actually done my cruciate and I won’t lie, I was so low, it was the lowest I have ever been in my life.”

“Leading up to the surgery I just thought right everything is going to start going right for me now, I’ve gotten myself into this situation, I can get myself out of it and I am going to be so focused but then it was cancelled. I just thought I actually don’t care anymore, everything is just going wrong, what’s the point in even trying anything? I felt like I had lost my identity, who am I without sport?”

Again, similar to helping her deal with the disappointment of missing out on the World Cup squad, the unwavering support from her friends and family, and in particular her parents Margaret and Fintan and her boyfriend John, helped Carroll shift her mind-set into a more positive place.

“From talking to them I actually started to realise that sport is only one part of my life and that my friends and family just care about me, not just for sport but for who I am as a person.”

Interestingly, a chance meeting with Clare senior hurler Podge Collins, himself an ACL sufferer in 2015, was the catalyst Carroll needed to kick start her recovery.

“I remember I met Podge Collins and I told him that my surgery was cancelled and he said to me ‘you have six weeks now to get as much prehab done as possible’ he was just really positive about the whole thing and told me that this would help me on the other side of it and I just thought you know what he’s right and I need to take that approach.”

Despite her new found positivity, Carroll knew she had a long road ahead of her and decided she needed something to keep her accountable for her actions in the coming months.

“I am so used to team sport but now all of a sudden I am doing so much training by myself, and I wanted to be accountable for everything that I was doing, so I decided I was going to write the blog.”

“I just thought if I write this it can be something that I can commit to for the amount of time I am injured and it’s going to keep me in line every week. I also wanted to report it exactly as an ACL injury is, there are ups, there are downs, and literally everything in between and it is completely different for each person. So essentially I am helping myself and I thought if it’s helping even one other person, is that not a good thing?”

Carroll has just entered her 17th week post-surgery and while she is keen to not look too far into the future, she is clearly excited about the prospect of getting back onto the field of play and reigniting her inter-county career in both ladies football and camogie.

Naomi was speaking with Lisa Crowley for wgpa.ie.

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