Glentoran Women star and Northern Ireland international Caragh Hamilton admits a long-term knee injury could not have come at a worse time.
The 24-year-old has starred for the Glens this season - netting four goals in six Danske Bank Women’s Premiership appearances - but scans have shown she tore her ACL, MCL and meniscus in this month’s league win over Cliftonville.
Hamilton was in the Northern Ireland squad for the first time in two years for the 6-0 win at Faroe Islands last month and was set to be included in this month’s squad to face Belarus but is not expected to return to fitness until next season.
The versatile midfielder now requires surgery, stopping Hamilton in her tracks just months after returning to The Oval following a brief sabbatical from football.
“It’s more of a mental barrier than a physical one, but I’m no stranger to long-term injuries,” Hamilton explained.
“The timing of it could hardly have been worse because things were going so well for me personally and my teams, but this is part of being involved in the sport.
“With the way this season is and the uncertainty surrounding fixtures, it actually means I will not miss too many matches despite being unavailable for quite a period of time.
“We already have half a season under our belt, but we only have four games of the season left and we are all focused on us seeing the campaign out and finishing up top.
“For me, I now just need to focus on my recovery and getting back to fitness as soon as possible.”
Hamilton joins Emma McMaster - another international - to miss the remainder of the campaign for the Glens, who sit top of the Danske Bank Women’s Premiership with just four games of the season remaining.
She believes the home game against Sion Swifts will prove pivotal in the title race, and explains how keen her side are to avenge the 4-3 loss in Strabane from earlier this campaign - when Billy Clarke’s side blew a 3-1 lead.
“The manner of losing that game was one of the worst nights of my career,” Hamilton added.
“It was an awful experience to be on course for a really important victory and then to fall apart in the late stages - all the girls were hurting after that one.
“That has really focused everyone’s minds and all the players are really fired up for the games to come, and our re-match against Sion, who we know how dangerous they are.”
Hamilton joined Icelandic side Fylkir earlier in her career and despite later returning to Glentoran, she temporarily paused her football career to focus on Crossfit - a form of high intensity interval training focused on strength and conditioning.
“At the time, I had started to fall out of love with football a bit,” the international explained.
“It started when I was playing in Iceland and then I returned home and spent another season at Glentoran, but the training sessions and matches were not enjoyable for me.
“I was doing Crossfit at the time and that was something that I was devoting a lot of time too and really enjoying, so I decided it was time to do something that was different and pause my football career.
“I always thought I would return to football at some point, but I was not expecting it to happen so quickly.
“The Crossfit competitions were halted due to the pandemic and the travelling involved in them, so the Glens gave me a call and asked about my availability.
“Because this season was going to be really short and I had the time to devote to it, the opportunity felt like the right one for me.
“I got the bug again really quickly and loved being back playing football for the Glens.
“Northern Ireland boss Kenny Shiels saw me playing a few games and called me up into the international squad - which was much quicker than I thought.”
Hamilton became the youngest ever player to win a senior Northern Ireland cap when she made her debut aged just 15 back in 2012 and has returned to the squad, having amassed over 30 caps.
“Kenny has been massive in building a winning team and bringing so many local-based players in,” she continued.
“I think the talent has always been there - although there is more depth and quality now than previously - but it was a case of blending it together and to create that spirit and unity that you need.
“Everyone involved in the setup has been given more confidence to play and with a different style that we had before, and the girls have adapted to that really well.”