When Claire Egan’s tendon ripped cleanly off her right patella, things changed. Perspective did for a start.
The post-surgery pain was almost as horrendous as the injury itself.
There were plenty of sleepless nights, but Egan knows all about resilience.
“It’s like anything in life, you just have to tackle it and find a way,” admits Mayo’s greatest midfielder, whose mother passed away suddenly in 2006.
There’s a preconceived tough exterior, but it’s unfounded. Egan’s articulate, receptive, and enjoys a laugh at her own expense. But, to have comeback from a potentially career-ending injury, to be in a position to play some part in this evening’s Division 1 NFL final against Cork, takes granite-like mental strenght.
In December 2014, while playing rugby in the off-season with Dublin’s Blackrock RFC, Egan sustained the horrific injury.
Those watching were convinced she would never play again, but the Louisburgh native, now in her 19th season with Mayo, defied the odds.
“If someone told me the different stages of the injury, I’d have said ‘Good luck, I don’t want to know!’. It was a complete tear of the tendon, and that had to be reattached.
” When I got the cast off, I’d 35 staples down the middle of the leg. I was in a knee brace and had crutches, and then I had to have a second surgery because the knee cap floated up into my thigh. A bolt was then put into my shin and a figure-eight wire to hold my knee cap in place... but, you need a sense of humour about these things. If I could recommend being injured, the summer is a good time,” she laughs.
Seven months of rehab was divided between her home in Mayo and Dublin. Her father, Jimmy, a retired secondary school teacher, and her three brothers rallied round before returning to her job as communications officer with the Camogie Association the following April.
She worked with Ranleagh-based physio Ailbe McCormack once a week, eventually building up to 90 minutes of exercises a day. For 10 weeks, she worked with personal trainer Laura Connick in Dromcondra, learnt to run again using a trampoline, and then there was the 6am, 30-mile cycles to Howth and back, three times a week.
“I was like a new-born calf learning to run again but I’m very determined, stubborn even, and I just tore into my rehab.”
Retirement however was playing on her mind. Her inter-county career began when she was spotted in a Cumann na mBunscoil quarter-final as a young teenager. She signed with Westport, but when the club folded, Egan was left in limbo. Her father knew Jimmy McGing of Carnacon, and so it was decided that her parents, Jimmy and Mary, would drive her the 50 minutes to training, and back. It paid off, and aged 16 Egan made her senior debut for Mayo, winning her first All-Ireland a year later.
Since, she’s amassed 12 Celtic crosses between inter-county and Carnacon.
“I remember the ones we lost just as well,” Egan interjects.
She makes it six in total, but turning 34 on May 20, the multi All-Star winner hopes defeats will be a thing of the past.
“This will be my last season, I’m pretty clear on that. Earlier in year I thought that was it, I was done, but I decided in March to have another go. It was gnawing away at me because I knew there was more in me.”
The injury, she admits, was ‘probably the best thing’ that’s happened her.
“You do re-assess things. Being back, I see things from a very different viewpoint. It makes you appreciate the importance of having a strong panel and what life is like when you’re not in the first 15. I always started before, but I might not have always finished the way I would have liked,” she laughs, referring to her history of receiving yellow cards.
“It’s really exciting to see the younger players stepping up to the plate though. They’re trying to be leaders in their own right.
“The group is working hard, and there’s no guarantee we’ll win anything, but if you put in good, honest effort, you don’t know what’ll happen.
“I don’t want to be trotting out a load of clichés, but it is a big test and Cork have shown that when they need to find a winning result, they do.
“But our gang want to be on the pitch against the likes of the Briege Corkerys, the Brid Stacks and Orla Finns. You want to be up there with them at this level.”
In what will be a repeat of the 2005, 2009 and 2013 match-ups, this one promises to be another battle.
For Egan, however, it will be her last attempt at winning a league title, and no one deserves it more.
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