No More Sundays In September

The air is heavy, the ground heavy and dry underfoot and the glow of that coveted grand stretch in the evening. It can only mean one thing – we’re coming into the peak of the GAA club season. Forget Christmas, this is the most wonderful time of the year.

Summer is the beautiful coming of age of the GAA season. The hard innings of the cruel pre-season conditioning fast becoming a distant memory, with teams trading sprints for solos and burpees for ball work. I always loved the summer season.

You cannot beat it. The nervous energy building in the pit of your stomach from the second your feet hit the floor in the morning, digging your gloves out of the back of the cupboard, wincing at the stench, frantically searching for the gumshield you swore you left in your bootbag.

Then you get there, and you sit in a huge room made entirely of concrete and some plastic pathetic excuse for a bench. You chat to your teammates, you banter back and forth but you’re not fully engaged. The game is always at the back of your mind. Where will you play? Will you play? Are you going to get stuck marking their county player?

The questions stop swirling around your head once the manager comes in. You’re on. You pull on the jersey, feeling the sleek of the fabric and crackle of the static as it goes over your ponytail. You get a whiff of detergent, or last week’s sweat and muck if no one remembered to wash the jerseys that week. The chatter in the dressing room is different now. The energy has changed. It’s more nervous, apprehensive. You do your 100th nervous wee, and then you clunk awkwardly in your boots out of the concrete and onto the grass.

You step onto the grass and it’s time. Stretches, pre-match warm up, a few questionable kicks over the bar. You eye up the other team, and their sideline, wonder how it’ll go. And then before you know it, the ref has blown the whistle, impatient and demanding to get started.

Arms around each other, you gather around the manager, holding each other up, trying to ignore the increase in your heartbeat. Last minute tactics are discussed, girls nodding furiously in agreement, some slapping shoulders and agreeing heartily. The second thrill of the referee’s whistle reminds you there’s a game about to start, and then it’s hands in. Three, two, one, let’s go. 

I haven’t played football in six years, and I still remember those feelings. It fills me with such intense sadness that I will never experience them again. There is something so incredibly exhilarating about team sports, the idea that you are part of something so much bigger than you.  

I’ve tried plenty of other forms of exercise since, and none have come close to that feeling football gave me. The burn in my lungs or dryness in my throat after a 10km run doesn’t feel like that of a pre-season jog. Smashing a bench PB feels good, but nothing like blasting the ball into the top corner during the last kick of a draw game. Unparalleled. There was always a means to an end for anything in football, and it was worth it – you didn’t do cardio to look lean in your Instagram photos, it was so you were in front of your marker at all times. I remember doing five minutes of the plank every night before bed, and then feeling the opposition bounce off me during a game and knowing it was because I had built that strong core.

You don’t forget those feelings, but you sure as hell miss having them.

Some days are harder than others. I’ll go to a game in Croker, and get lost in the feelings of what makes sport so great. And then, I remember that that part of me no longer exists. The girl that would go to a game with her Dad, roar for 70 minutes and feel so motivated to go to training that following Monday is a ghost. Now, football lives on for me solely as three scars on my right knee. Three scars that mark the number of times I decided that I wanted to continue to chase the dream of sport.

Summer is always the hardest. I lived for the summer season, where championship awaited. I never minded turning down a social event, going home early or getting up for a 5km run. That delayed gratification made it all so worth it when you felt the wind ripple your jersey and your heart start to thump faster knowing the game was about to begin and you were ready.

Turning my back on football was probably a mistake, but after I got injured I could barely look at a game without seeing everything I lost. I would go to games, smile on the sideline, make polite conversation with the subs, all the while feeling a heaviness and a sense of loss that I was no longer a part of a team. I would feel the jealousy rise in my throat and fight back barbed comments when I heard my former teammates lament they would have to stay in and not drink at concerts or social events. How I would give anything for that to be me. How I was the unfortunate one with ligaments seemingly made out of tissue paper.

I tied up so much of my identity in sport, that losing it really rattled me and took years to get over. As far as I was concerned, I lived for football. When I felt that snap in my knee that fateful evening, I knew everything was different now. I tried to go back, tried to follow the rehab, get the surgeries, do the work. But, life is random and life had decided I was not to return to football. I was absolutely devastated. People can call it hyperbolic and dramatic, and maybe on some level it is. But I would also say that those people clearly never kicked a 45 on a windy day and felt the swoop of a ball over the bar in the dying minutes of a game.

Injury and consequential chronic pain make you bitter. And that is hard to pull back from. I still haven’t quite mastered it, and there are days where I still feel like sinking into the woe is me, where I look out at a GAA pitch on a sunny evening and think about what will not now ever come to pass.

How I would give anything just for one more Sunday in September.

Published by Michelle Carroll

I am an online coach (MSc Sports & Exercise Nutrition, EQF Level 4 Personal Trainer, PN Level 1) and radiographer (BSc). I believe in empowering others to make better choices for their health through education. I think that the fitness industry has created a disconnect between best practices and “evidence-based” practices. I hope by chronicling my experience as a healthcare professional and my education as a fitness professional I can assist others on the path to bettering themselves.

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