From the off, you can tell Caoimhe McGrath is a grafter.

At just 22 years old, the Abbeyside clubwoman already has a big reputation within Ladies Football circles, so much so she picked up the 2017 Waterford Senior Ladies Footballer of the year award and more recently, picked up a third-level HEC All-Star for her exploits in helping UL claim the 2019 O’Connor Cup title, a second such accolade for McGrath in just three college seasons. Two Ashbourne camogie medals also take residency in her trophy cabinet.

A fierce competitor, the third year Physiotherapy student is best known for her defensive capabilities but as is her versatility, in 2015, the then 18 year old started at wing-forward when the Deise claimed the All-Ireland ladies football intermediate crown. In more recent times, her phenomenal athletic ability has also started to turn heads in camogie circles. A Waterford minor dual star in 2014, the An Rinn camogie woman parked the dream of senior inter-county camogie in order to pursue a career with the senior footballers but when the call came in the winter of 2017 to link up with Donal O’Rourke’s camogie panel, she didn’t hesitate, but had one massive hurdle to jump first; a ruptured achilles.

A routine challenge game with the UL O’Connor Cup squad in October, 2017 ended in disaster for McGrath when she heard the dreaded ‘pop’ as she made a trademark burst up the pitch to aid a teammate. “I just went to make a run and I just heard my Achilles pop, it actually felt like someone had kicked me in the back of the ankle but there was no one behind me.”

“Initially I walked off the pitch with it and the physio had said that it may only be a calf tear because of the fact there wasn’t as much pain as you would normally associate with an Achilles rupture but with my physio background, I had an idea that it was gone and I had a feeling I would be facing a long lay-off.”

Just two weeks later McGrath underwent surgery in Santry and began the 28 week journey back to play. It becomes clear pretty quickly that McGrath isn’t one to hang around and basque in self-pity, once the initial shock of suffering such an extensive injury wore off, McGrath immersed herself in rehab and vowed to come back stronger.

“I just took the mindset that it is what it is now. There was no other way to go about it at the time. I would be of the opinion that your mindset has so much to do with your recovery process, if you are feeling sorry for yourself about it you’re probably not as inclined to do the rehab to the same extent. In my head I thought right I can use this as a timeframe to actually improve other aspects of my game that I hadn’t been focusing on because I was so busy training. I threw myself into an extensive gym programme and I actually felt I came back nearly as fast as before the injury and I was well able to compete which was massive.”

Her conscientiousness to her rehabilitation will come as no surprise to anybody that knows her and even now, having fully returned to play with little to no setbacks, McGrath makes sure to keep on top of her gym work and monitors her training load closely. Such an attitude can perhaps be linked to her new perspective on the game resulting from suffering such a lengthy layoff. “You are just so hungry after being injured. Even last year with UL, I was coming up for training even though I had to take the year off, I’d be driving up the road, having rushed out of work and you don’t question it, you just do it. I think when it gets taken away from you, you want it so much more.”

“People would be asking me why are you even coming up for training? There is no need but when you want to get back into it, you just don’t take it for granted. Even cold, winter nights, you are going out onto the pitch and sometimes the attitude or mentality might be that I could be sitting in front of the fire or I could be doing a hundred other things, but for me it was so important to stay involved.”

For McGrath, the GAA pitch offers a safe haven where she can truly express herself away from the hussle and bussle of everyday life and when the opportunity arose a couple of years ago to act as as a Mental Health Ambassador for Waterford GAA, McGrath felt it was an important campaign to back.“From a general perspective, it is an increasingly talked about topic and people are more aware of it and when young kids see that their sporting idols are talking about it, it normalises it which is so important.”

“From a players perspective, when we go onto the GAA pitch it’s supposed to be your destressor, you’re supposed to be enjoying it but if people have a lot going on with college and they are trying to juggle a few different things or they have a lot going on at home, say family issues or even just general work stresses, when the GAA are promoting it, there is more of an avenue there for people to realise that the GAA can be your safe place and your place to get away from all of this.”

A busy summer lies ahead for McGrath, but as with everything, she takes it in her stride, ready to embrace the challenges ahead.

Caoimhe was speaking with Lisa Crowley for wgpa.ie.

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