Footballers go through highs and lows throughout their careers but Vicky Carleton has packed in a rollercoaster of emotions in 2022.
The year began with the Danske Bank Women’s Premiership midfield star being included in the full-time Northern Ireland international training setup, with the possibility of a place in the 23-player panel for the European Championships.
Yet there was heartbreak for the 25-year-old in March, when she snapped her syndesmosis ligament in a training match – an injury requiring surgery and a near six-month layoff.
Carleton returned to the pitch in August, having swapped the blue of Linfield Ladies for the red of Cliftonville Ladies, as she debuted for her new club in a league victory at Derry City Women.
“That was my first competitive game in ten months and I was honestly so nervous,” she explained. “There was such a long road to recovery and process to go through that it builds up inside your head and you start to overthink about everything. But as soon as I took my first touch of the ball, I forgot that I had even been injured.
“Funnily enough though, you can see the intensity of the games and the fitness level you need to build up – I was only on for 20 minutes against Derry and by the time I was coming off, I was wrecked!
“But everything is good fitness wise now and I’m building it up from a substitute role, to starting games and now hopefully being able to complete 90 minutes.”
Carleton had previously spent time in England with Team Solent and Championship side Lewes before returning home for spells with Glentoran Women, Linfield Ladies and, now, Cliftonville Ladies.
“It was the worst possible time, because being involved in the full-time program was a big moment and opportunity,” she continued of the injury. “It was a privilege for me as I had not been involved in the international squads under Kenny Shiels before that.
“Then as soon as you are accustomed to that environment and training, the injury struck – so the challenge now is to bounce back and get back to those levels. My focus right now is on Cliftonville and taking it from there.
“My aim is not only to be in international training but in the full squad and winning caps.”
Carleton added that it “was not an easy decision” to move away from Linfield Ladies this year, but the challenge of competing for major trophies and a side who have won every league game this campaign was a significant.
“I knew it was the right time to leave,” she added. I am 25 now and I am at the stage of my career that I want to be playing regularly and challenging myself.
“It was right to move on from the transition phase that Linfield are obviously going through.
“The training here is so competitive because everyone knows they are fighting for their place and you can see how the girls thrive with that competition. I knew by joining the club that I was not going to necessarily walk into the team because this is a winning side and any place is hard earned.
“The reason for joining the club was for me to improve as a player with the intensity of the training and the quality of the players that would be around me.”
Cliftonville Ladies will be aiming to make it 12 league victories in a row when they host Lisburn Ladies on 21 September.
Having started the year filed with so much hope prior to a freak injury, Carleton is now determined to end 2022 on a similar high with the Dankse Bank Women’s Premiership title.