Tuesday 19 February 2019

'The doctor said I don't think you should play sports again' - Rockett continues to soar for Déise against all medical odds

Some nights after championship games Niamh Rockett cannot sleep with the pain. Photo: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Some nights after championship games Niamh Rockett cannot sleep with the pain. Photo: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

How do you deal with being told as a 16-year-old that you could end up in a wheelchair by 30 if you continue to play competitive sport?

That was the situation which Waterford camogie star Niamh Rockett found herself in when she was informed after keyhole surgery that they'd have to break her knees and re-align them, such was the wear and tear and misalignment.

Sport meant everything to her but it seemed her days were numbered as she hobbled out on crutches alongside her father Eddie - the Waterford hurler of the 1980s, no relation of the American fast-food diner.

Alternative opinions were sought, however, with a host of doctors, physios and chiropractors giving their two cents and she managed the arthritic condition through her teens only to meet further misfortune aged 20.

Dislocated

Rockett remembers little about that day in Meath as a stray leg from an opponent resulted in a dislocated kneecap, which left the St Anne's attacker unable to run for 14 months.

An MPFL reconstruction - where part of your hamstring is taken and pulled across your kneecap to stabilise it - followed which showed that her knee was "just pure black, there was no cartilage at all and it was just worn away".

"The doctor said I don't think you should play any sports again and that was the second time I'd been told that so it was really upsetting because I always thought there was an alternative, even when I was 16," Rockett recalled at yesterday's Littlewoods Ireland Camogie Leagues launch.

"But when you're looking at the best doctor in Ireland in Santry Sports Clinic and he's telling you that he's never seen the same problem... we were asking was there anyone who we could get in contact with.

"There were about two people in the world that he could find that had similar problems because he was trying to look for reference points. And he said I think you just need to give up sports or you'll never be a PE teacher, you'll be in a wheelchair by the time you're 30."

Rockett was already training to be a PE and maths teacher though and the Déise dynamo had no intention of giving up any of her dreams, on or off the pitch, despite the "turmoil".

"When a player retires they normally retire of their own accord, whereas you are 16 and you are 20 and you are being told you can't play anymore. And it's your whole life. All your friends are doing it," she says. "Your father played for Waterford, your brother played for Waterford, you were meant to be this next big thing like, do you know, and now you have an operation and you can't do it. It's really hard to take."

Walking and running with a limp was something she had gotten used to but she owes much of her ability to continue playing inter-county camogie to Cork physio Declan O'Sullivan, who taught her how to run again.

Some nights after championship games she mightn't sleep with the pain - she takes supplements to help - but much like Paul McGrath did throughout his remarkable soccer career, she has learned that less is more with regards to team training.

She makes up for it with six gym sessions a week to take stress off her knee and perseverance has seen her collect All-Ireland junior (2011) and intermediate titles (2015) with the Déise.

After reaching their first All-Ireland senior quarter-final last year, the 25-year-old has no intention of them becoming "a one-trick pony".

With everything Rockett has overcome to play, there's no fear of that.

Irish Independent

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