After enduring heartbreak and injury agony, Cratloe’s own Naomi Carroll has been named in the Irish women’s hockey squad for the upcoming Olympic Games. She spoke with Ivan Smyth.
WHEN The Clare Champion spoke to Carroll on Tuesday, she was still trying to process the news that she will be the first person from Cratloe to represent Ireland at an Olympic Games.
“I’m over the moon. It hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m absolutely thrilled to have made the final squad. I didn’t know myself before yesterday (Monday) so when I got the email to say I was in it was amazing.”
The road to Tokyo has been a bumpy one, filled with twists and turns as Carroll has dealt with injury setbacks and missing out on representing her country at a World Cup.
After suffering from a wretched run of luck in 2018, she suffered an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury that threatened to end her hockey career before it had truly taken off.
She praises her parents Vincent and Margaret, her brother Nigel and sister Melanie for helping her on her road to recovery and for supporting her Olympic dream.
Naomi has represented Cratloe and Clare in ladies football and camogie and she is quick to thank the local community for their support.
“I couldn’t have got back fit and then made the Ireland squad without the local support. Joe, Eileen and Máire McGrath are people I need to thank for their support. It’s an amazing feeling and touch wood I stay fit and represent Cratloe and Clare this summer.”
In 2018, the Irish sporting public witnessed the women’s hockey team create history by reaching the final of the World Cup as the popularity of the sport skyrocketed in the immediate aftermath.
Carroll, like the rest of the sporting public watched from afar as she was named as a non- travelling reserve while her teammates secured a silver medal on the international stage.
The disappointment of missing out on making the squad is something she still remembers but she believes the setback gave her added motivation.
“At the time it was bittersweet. I was disappointed not to make the squad, but I was absolutely delighted to see the group do well. I’ll always back the girls, so it was great what they managed to achieve. I suppose it gave me the desire to try harder.”
After not making the World Cup squad, Carroll opted to play GAA for the summer. Six days after Ireland played in the World Cup final, the secondary school teacher came off the bench for Clare in the All-Ireland intermediate ladies football quarter final.
An innocuous side-step after coming on in that game led her to fall to the ground in agony. She tried to play on but the pain was too much.
The disappointment of missing out on representing her country was bad but to rub salt in Carroll’s wounds, she ended up suffering an ACL injury.
“I thought it was a small injury as I was able to get back up after the initial pain. I was told the knee was fine but eventually I got the diagnosis and it was hard to take.”
Many athletes are unable to return to the same level after suffering an ACL injury. The Maths and Irish teacher at Gaelcholáiste Luimnigh admits recovering from the injury was very demanding.
“The recovery was very hard especially at the start. I wouldn’t be where I am now without the support I received. Clare football and Clare camogie were brilliant to me. I got injured playing football, but the camogie group really helped me out too. I kept taking it day by day and thankfully I recovered.”
“I learned a lot about myself during that time. I set myself small goals because before I used to look at the big picture too much. Sometimes you can overlook the small things and the milestones you hit so I definitely learned more about myself while learning that sometimes you need to celebrate the small things.”
Her clubmate Podge Collins is someone Naomi confided in as he too has experienced the difficulties in recovering from an ACL injury.
“He was very good to me. When my first surgery was cancelled, he met me straight after. I was very disappointed, but he helped me through that tough time. He gave me great advice and motivation as I had seen how hard he worked to recover from his injury.”
During this time, the 28-year-old volunteered in India with The Hope Foundation. She admits getting away from home for a brief period helped her to gain perspective.
“One hundred per cent it put everything into perspective. To see the difference between the wealthy and poor in Calcutta, was an eye opener for me. It was good that I got to try something non sport related and see a bit of the world while I still had the chance.”
She received a call up to the squad last year when Ireland were set to tour South Africa but the onset of the pandemic led her return to the international fold to be delayed.
This year she represented Ireland in the EuroHockey Championships as she scored the winning goal against Scotland, to break a gap of 1,100 days since her last international goal.
“It had been over 1,000 days since my last international goal so as a forward scoring goals is what I want to do. It was so special. It was brilliant to score especially after the injury and recovery.”
The Catholic Institute hockey player is hoping Ireland can progress beyond the group stage and compete for a medal this summer.
“There are two groups of six teams so if we can win two of our games, we should hopefully reach a quarter final. Once its knockout anything can happen so we will try our best and see what we can do.”