Lidl National Football League: Roisín McCafferty of Donegal enjoys his second coming after a concussion

McCafferty helped Donegal beat Dublin in the National League Division 1 semi-final three weeks ago
Place: Croke Park Date: sunday april 10 Throw in : 4:00 p.m. BST
Cover: Match report on the BBC Sport website

Another concussion would be the end, Roisín McCafferty would hang up his boots and call her a day about her playing career, on the spot.

She suffered the terrifying side effects that come with the invisible wound and can never afford to suffer it again.

After her first, the then young Donegal was robbed of her confidence, it left her in emotional turmoil, she doubted herself and even believed she had imagined her symptoms.

But wearing her physio hat today, the Donegal keeper can tell you exactly the injury she first suffered, when she was kicked in the head during a challenge match.

“It was vestibular, inner ear, balance issues and stuff like that were my main symptoms,” says Termon-based McCafferty.

On Sunday, she will be one of the most experienced members of the Donegal panel as they seek to make history by beating All-Ireland senior champions Meath at Croke Park.

It would be a first ever National Football League Division One title for Donegal, and after his retirement McCafferty would be delighted to get his hands on the trophy.

“I had also lost power in my right hand”

In addition to his previous concussion issues, a chronic knee and hip problem troubled Roisin last year, but at least those injuries had a real tangible timeline for recovery.

“You break your leg, you have a cast on it, you can see it, you’re doing rehab,” McCafferty said.

“But I couldn’t do anything when I came back from my concussion, it was really lonely, to be honest.

“I was convincing myself that I was making it all up. Is it just in my head? What’s going on, is there something mentally going on with me?”

It was a pre-league game against Cavan and McCafferty didn’t even get knocked out. She stood up and tried to continue only for her Donegal manager and current LGFA chairman Míchéal Naughton to replace her.

The physio warned her not to drive home, but at a time when the concussion was still unknown, she jumped into her car and started driving away, before symptoms appeared.

She began to feel dizzy and called teammate Roisin Yankee who arrived on the scene and took the wheel – from there the symptoms worsened.

McCafferty went to the hospital before she was discharged and was given a pamphlet about her injury, and just a week before her Leaving Cert teasing, she suffered the full gamut.

“They ended up setting me up in a room at school, where I could go upstairs and sleep for half an hour between lessons if I needed to. It was the only way to spend the day at the time” , McCafferty said.

“I had also lost power in my right hand, and that was my writing hand. I couldn’t do my technical graphic projects.”

McCafferty in action against Galway in February
McCafferty recalls crying after watching a Donegal game, convinced she could never play Gaelic football again

McCafferty’s family made heroism

McCafferty’s family was heroic behind the scenes, and at worst, his mother Patricia ended up helping him go to the bathroom, shower and get dressed.

“It shakes your confidence and then shakes you mentally,” McCafferty said.

“You think you’re making it up. There were days when I was like, ah here, what’s going on?

“I remember going to watch a league game in Donegal and I came back and I just cried, I was like, I’ll never be right again.

“I remember crying to my mom, saying you always had to hold my hand so I wouldn’t fall every time I walked. And that was maybe eight weeks later.”

But she eventually found her way back to the football field, even though subconsciously she wasn’t ready.

“It was in the back of my mind and I didn’t even realize it was there, until one day I thought to myself that’s why I’m not going for that ball,” McCafferty said. .

“Or I’m not going to look for that ball because it was almost a reflex in my head.”

The LPGA’s fight to understand concussion

But the LGFA has struggled to better understand injury and concussion guidelines that ensure player safety.

“Little was known about concussions when I had my first injury, but it’s been great to see what’s happened since. The LGFA is really proactive with that,” McCafferty said.

The 30-year-old Termon star was in Bali when the Covid-19 pandemic hit and she had to return to Ireland, abandoning the trip of a lifetime just months earlier.

She spent some time in the UK in previous years, where she studied to become a physio on a football scholarship.

McCafferty ended up playing women’s football for Roger Casements at Coventry before a stint with John Mitchells at Liverpool, winning an All-Britain Championship in 2017.

One of the first highlights of his sports career was playing football at the World Student Games in the Russian city of Kazan.

Meath captain Shauna Ennis won the Brendan Martin Cup last year
Meath captain Shauna Ennis won the Brendan Martin Cup last year after the Royals beat Dublin in the All-Ireland final

And today, when she’s not playing football for her club or in goal with Donegal, you might find her surfing on the nearest beach.

“I did a bit of surfing when I was traveling, mostly in Australia,” McCafferty said.

“I’ve been surfing badly ever since. It’s what I do to get out, I’ll be out there for maybe two hours. I forget about everything else. It’s my mindfulness.”

But on Sunday his attention will be firmly focused on a deadly forward line from Meath and an opportunity to win some silverware at Croke Park.

“No Donegal women’s team has won a Division 1 final, that would be a huge piece of history for us,” McCafferty said.

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