Sunday 23 September 2018

Campbell's rocky road back from injury

Irish international Megan Campbell (right) alongside Manchester City
team-mate Lucia Bronze and the Women’s Super League 1 trophy. Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Irish international Megan Campbell (right) alongside Manchester City team-mate Lucia Bronze and the Women’s Super League 1 trophy. Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

For Megan Campbell, and the players of her generation, the ambition is to move their story beyond their headline-grabbing appearance in Liberty Hall last April.

The fight for proper representation for women footballers in Ireland ultimately boiled down to matters of respect.

"I think it was then up to us to give it back," says the 24-year-old. "To prove that we did deserve that and, thankfully, we're doing that right now."

There's a modesty in that answer which could be contested. But the Drogheda native is living up to her words by reaching a high standard of professional football in a way that should inspire any young girl who wonders what opportunities might be available to them.

Unfortunately for her, she is now experiencing a problem that comes with the territory, a setback that can strike down stars - male or female - at any level of the game.

The pain of a long-term knee injury means that, for a large part of what could be a defining year for the women's game in this country, the granddaughter of the late and much-missed Dubliners legend Eamonn Campbell will be reduced to the role of spectator.

She watched November's momentous scoreless draw away to European champions Holland on a tablet as she rested up her knee and came to terms with the prospect of surgery on her right anterior cruciate ligament.

On Tuesday, she spoke optimistically about her own rocky road towards a comeback deadline in Dublin on August 31, a showdown with Northern Ireland which is the final World Cup 2019 qualifier for Colin Bell's side.

The joint leaders in Group 3 have four qualifiers in the intervening period and the results will determine if they have a chance of topping their group or securing one of the four play-off places with a view to making history.

Those thoughts will help Campbell through the rehab; she is going through it in a high-class environment. The second anniversary of her move to Manchester City is looming, although the slight accent on some of her words would leave an audience with the impression that she's been there a lot longer.

After her teenage exploits with the talented Irish group that made the Women's U-17 World Cup in 2010, Campbell was recruited by the Florida State Seminoles for a scholarship. That experience put the defender on the radar of clubs in the evolving English league; Manchester City have taken their women's team seriously and invested in a proper full-time set-up. They have reaped the rewards from that. Campbell was flown to Abu Dhabi to sign for a team that was just gathering momentum towards a period of success. Last year, she walked out in front of 35,000 fans in Wembley to play in a FA Cup final and win. That success was sweet because her early days in England had been peppered by injury. The latest setback, however, is by far the most serious one.

German international Pauline Bremer is going through rehab alongside her, recovering from a leg break that did expose flaws in the Women's Super League - she faced a lengthy delay waiting for an ambulance after suffering the injury. Campbell's world turned in a Champions League tie with Norwegian outfit LSK Kvinner.

"It's nine weeks now since the injury," she sighs. "Five weeks since the surgery."

The waiting game is frustrating, but it has allowed her to take stock of her progress to date. On a trip home to Dublin this week, the ambassador for the SPAR FAI Primary School 5s Programme was able to fulfil promotional duties as well as catch up with a family member who is currently unwell.

In October, she lost her famous granddad, a passionate football fan who had tracked her every step of the way. "He was always behind me in my football and whenever we were playing in Tallaght," she smiles. "Whenever he wasn't away gigging. People will definitely miss his face in the crowd. He was a man loved by everyone all across the country I think, and worldwide, and that was a credit to where he's come from. He's worked hard all his career to get to where he was."

That trait runs through the family. When Campbell's gifts stood out, her father Eamonn Jnr, a taxi driver, became the chauffeur on her shuttle service to Dublin for training. That was a time-consuming sacrifice.

But it has paid off, and her wish is that others will follow. She does possess rare talent, though, and that goes beyond her obvious playing ability. Campbell possesses a long throw that has led some FAI officials to think about calling the Guinness World of Records.

It is a natural skill. "Hyper-mobility," she explains. "I've had it since I was a kid. I played with boys in Drogheda and threw the ball in one day and it was longer than the rest of the lads. And they told me to do it again.

"As I grew, it got longer and it just went from there. It's never something I've practised or done stuff to help it get any longer. I don't know what to say!"

It's a potent weapon which opposing teams struggle with, and the fear is that Ireland will struggle without it. But if Campbell returns to find the dream still alive, the year of her life could lie ahead.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport