Glentoran Women ace Caragh Hamilton admits she is desperate to make up for lost time after spending 10 months on the sidelines with a cruciate ligament injury.
The midfield star sustained the injury after netting a league win against Cliftonville last year but is now back in action ahead of a crucial run of games for club and country.
Hamilton is involved with the Northern Ireland squad during this international break and is back for the Glens title run-in and Irish Cup final.
The 25-year-old admitted: “It has been really tough having to watch on from the sidelines – wanting to be able to come on and make a difference but being frustrated.
“We had a slow start to the season and not being able to influence those games was not easy, but also when we were getting good results – it was hard to feel like you were a part of that success.
“The entire time has been frustrating as Covid meant last season was delayed and then shortened, then as soon as I got going with a run of games there was the injury.
“I am looking forward to a consistent period of training and being involved in matches, to reach a higher level than I had even before the setback.”
Having been injured against the Reds, she is now back in action for the crucial run-in to the Danske Bank Women’s Premiership with both the Glens and Cliftonville vying for the title.
The East Belfast side host John McGrady’s challengers in a potentially decisive league game later this month, with the champions currently out on top due to their superior head-to-head record this season.
“Everyone wants a title race like this – it is the same for the players as well as fans, these games what push you on and motivate you,” continued Hamilton.
“Obviously it would be nice from our point of view to be clear out in front but these matches add an edge to the season and they are high quality.
“You want every game to mean something and the fixtures have worked out for this game to come at a time when it is absolutely crucial.”
Such is the significance of the league games and the level of representation that both clubs have in the international setup, friendships and Northern Ireland camaraderie will be set aside for the showdown.
Hamilton added: “We are all focused on the internationals but all the players are also talking about the league, and obviously our cup final coming up against the Crusaders players too.
“All of the club season is in the back of everybody’s mind because of the stage of the season that we are in so it is inevitable.
“Everyone is a competitor at heart and we are all desperate to win trophies and earn success, so that means we put ourselves our friendships and bonds from international level aside.”
Hamilton has featured as a substitute in the recent league victories over Crusaders and Linfield – finding the net in the latter clash – and admits she will have to fight to win back her spot in the starting line-up at the Glens.
“The environment is brilliant and there is such high competition for places,” she noted.
“There are constantly players of a high level arriving at the club and they all know that nobody is guaranteed a starting spot or regular time – but they all know that they will improve as players because of the standard here.
“There are no egos at the club and everyone is there to work hard and improve themselves, as well as all their teammates.
“I knew that when I signed for the club; the girls were in a really good run of form, scoring lots of goals and winning most of their games, so it was a challenge to break into that setup.
“Then when I returned from my injury this month there was no guarantee I would be back in the team due to the form of the girls, and knowing I had to build my minutes up quite slowly.
“It is a case of having to earn my place back rather than having it given to me.”