'I was trying to play Gaelic Football when I could barely pick up something from the ground': Nora Stapleton

The Ireland out-half discusses an injury she had before making the switch to rugby

BY Sinéad Farrell 17:35 Sunday 28 May 2017, 17:35 28 May 2017

©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Ireland out-half Nora Stapleton isn't thinking about the Rugby World Cup in August at the moment.

They have some uncapped games against Japan in the coming weeks, to prepare for their eventual meeting in Pool C of the tournament. But even those fixtures are too far away for her to dwell on them. 

She's concentrating on the next training session and the pre-World Cup camps that are leading Ireland into the World Cup.

A practical approach of course, but for Stapleton, the logic stems from a time in her life when she couldn't allow herself to consider things that are too far into the future.

While she was still a Gaelic Footballer with Donegal, and in the early stages of playing competitive rugby with Leinster and Ireland, a cyst was discovered on her back.

It was a debilitating injury that made even the most basic of tasks a struggle.

"I was trying to play Gaelic Football when I could barely pick up something from the ground,"  she told Newstalk.com at the launch of Aon's Women's Rugby World Cup #JourneyToGreatness campaign. 

Image: Nora Stapleton during a Captain’s Run earlier this year.

"I was coach in a club," she adds, "and I couldn't even solo the ball. I had to get one of the kids to demonstrate it. Other times I'd forget for a second and kick a ball, and get a shooting nerve pain down my leg. 

"It was tough at the start because I used to play at a level, I used to play midfield in Gaelic Football and I just couldn't play it anymore.

"I was turned into a full-forward, but it was more the pain element of it. If you've a pain every single day… Sometimes the pain becomes numb and you don't realise it's there, sometimes it was just really frustrating."

While in the early stages of her recovery, she was drained by worries about how she was going to rebuild herself for international rugby, and become a competitive player again.

Over time, she realised that she would have to release herself from those pressures and reassess her targets.

"Anytime someone asked me if I was going to play for Leinster or Ireland, I just said that I was going to enjoy my rugby and enjoy being back."

Image: Nora Stapleton kicking a penalty during the 2017 Six Nations.

"I had to step away from a lot of sports and just mentally get myself right because it was too painful. It was when I was coming back from that and I didn't know if I was going to be able to play any sport at a high level again.

"I had to go away from everything completely and work with a physio to see how to strengthen up my inner core and get a good quality of life and get rid of the pain that had become daily.”

"When I did a training session, if I felt ok I'd train again next week. If I could do that, I'd train the week after. When it came to the first match, if I had done the training then I'd play the match."

The battle back to full fitness lasted for about one year, and these days, she is exclusively committed to rugby. Something had to give in order to keep the injuries away and dropping Gaelic Football is a small price to pay. She still misses the sport, but she enjoys being a spectator and has an All-Ireland Intermediate title with Donegal from 2010, to show for her efforts.

She might not be looking at it yet, but the World Cup is looming and Ireland have France, Australia, and Japan for company in Pool C when the tournament begins.

Stapleton's focus is conditioned to take each game as it comes, and she just wants to enjoy the ride.

“It's about one game at a time. For us, it's about Japan (two uncapped games) in two weeks and even closer to that, it's one training session at a time, because you're only a session away from an injury. Our aim is to play the World Cup, but I could get injured in the next training session and not even get there.

"I just want to focus on each training session and make sure that I maximise the time that I have on the pitch."


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