Megan Campbell’s career has been filled with serious injuries, but she has found a greater purpose in sports

There is a sense of anticipation when Liverpool are rewarded with a throw-in attacking third; You don’t have to watch TV or follow along with radio commentary to know that a pundit is currently talking about Megan Campbell and her mammoth throw. The defender’s ability to slot the ball into the box from the touchline is something she quickly became known for when she moved to England to play in the Women’s Super League in 2016. And it was no different when the Reds were struggling at home earlier this year, an hour before ESPN sat down with the Ireland defender.

Having said for years that he doesn’t want to be known just for his cannonballing ability, once the game is done and dusted — and the Reds have pocketed the three points — the defender said he’s always happy to use him. Ability to help. He joked that he wanted to be known for playing football with his feet. Yet it’s those legs – specifically his ankle – that have been so troublesome throughout his playing career as he’s endured multiple injuries, almost cutting his playing days short a few years ago.

When we first sat down for a chat after the Reds played at Prenton Park, Campbell unpacked his injury history, which starts with the navicular — a broken ankle in college in the US — before turning into a short menu of ligaments and tendons: ATFL, ACL. , TPT and AFTL again. The defender was fine after a four-month spell out after fracturing his navicular, but rupturing his left ATFL (anterior talo-fibular ligament) at Manchester City sent him to the sidelines in mid-2016.

With her ATFL fully recovered and her long absence over, the Irishwoman returned to the starting XI for the Citizens in 2017 to play a key role in their FA Cup Final victory over Birmingham City. Fans were seeing Campbell at his peak, with the no-nonsense defender able to balance the attacking and defensive duties required of the then title holders. But it didn’t last and, an hour before the second leg of a Champions League round of 16 tie in mid-November 2017, the Irish international fell to the turf and, aged 24, star struck. Another long layoff after suffering an ACL injury.

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Campbell’s recovery was far from smooth sailing and provoked some big questions.

“The mental aspect of it was probably the hardest, I think for me it was like, ‘Why am I playing football?’ It takes you out of the real love of the game and into your personal life,” he explained. “Like… I need to be able to walk every day, I need to be able to do the things people do in my daily life; when I have kids, I want to be able to pick them up and I want to be able to play with them if I want to.”

“That’s probably the biggest thing that kept going through my mind: ‘What’s your life like after football?’ Because football, yeah, as great as it is, it doesn’t last forever, you know? And there were times when I thought about stopping, about retiring, on more than one occasion.”

It won’t be until 2019 that Campbell returns to action, but again, he can only build so much steam before getting hurt again. This time, with an injury not often seen in athletes, the defender ruptured his posterior tibial tendon. The surgery, usually given to those with fallen arches or “flat feet”, is intended to help patients be able to walk, not to pursue a sports career, and on the day of his surgery, his surgeon admitted that he had only performed the necessary operation, and had only succeeded. , once in his career.

Determined to return despite hearing he could never play football again, the Drogheda local struggled. “So I was on lockdown, I was by myself, and that’s probably what hurt me the most. I struggled a lot with my anxiety and the mental aspects of, ‘Can I actually do this?’ Like, I don’t know if it’s worth it.”

This is where his support network proved crucial. “But if it wasn’t for the people around me, I don’t think I’d still be playing the game. I mean, you need good people around you, whether it’s your family, your friends, your teammates, your staff, like the medical staff. Around you every day. You need good people, because they’re the people you ultimately look up to more than your family. And if you don’t have them, you’re struggling, but luckily I have good people around me.”

Campbell had indeed made a full recovery from injury, but he needed a change of scenery to opt for the short trip to Liverpool. The Reds faced a second season in the Championship and failed to gain immediate promotion to the WSL; It would be quite a change of pace for Campbell, but it was exactly the kind of challenge he wanted.

Of course, he had another surgery and a spell on the sidelines — tearing his left ATFL again after being tackled by an opponent in a preseason friendly — and didn’t return until January 2022, marking the second full calendar year in which he played any competitive minutes. disabled “Touch wood,” he jokes about his current fitness, hammering the wooden table a little harder than most of us.

Since the start of 2022, Campbell has barely looked back, first helping Liverpool achieve that elusive promotion from the Championship. With Ireland qualifying for their first ever World Cup, talk turned to Vera Pauw’s team and the defender’s conversations with her national team coach over the past few years. Pau was very clear about his need for Campbell not only to be physically fit and ready to play, but also to play and train consistently to achieve his selection — something the 29-year-old fully understood.

“You want the best players to play for your national team and I will never step in that way or ask for it or be upset because at the end of the day, it’s still my country and I want the best for them.”

For the chance to make that historic squad for that first World Cup game against co-hosts Australia in Sydney on July 20, Campbell isn’t trying to get ahead of himself although he is “hopeful. A flight somewhere nice” this summer.

Campbell has a maturity when it comes to these ideas; Although he appears as a quiet individual who can be laid back before coming out of his shell, there is a nurturing side that he displays with his teammates and that could help shape his playing days. “I want to give back to where I came from in Ireland,” Campbell said. “Whether it’s through trying to get young girls to reach the professional level, give them opportunities … we can open doors for other young girls. If I can help in any way, I will.

“Just helping the next generation is what I want to do.”

But it’s not a trait she’s saving for the future; As one of the most experienced players in this Liverpool team, Campbell is happy to help those around him however he can, with an emphasis on helping his teammates with the mental side of the WSL game.

“A lot of it will be mental than physical… If you play in this league, you’re a good player, you know what I mean? You’re not picked to play in this league because you’re not a good player. A lot of it is the mental aspect of it: How do you deal when defeat happens, how do you deal when you don’t play as often as you did in the championship, or if you’re in form and bad… how do you deal with it? Whatever I can do to help the players, I always help them. Will talk to and give some advice. And good.

“At the end of the day, and I think this might sound silly to a lot of people, but I think the purpose of playing football is not just to play football and do well. [to be here] For other people, and I think I got into the sport maybe to help others because I mean, I’ve been through a lot of bullets—, to put it mildly. And I think maybe I can help others if I have that experience…”

Interestingly, for all the injuries and concussions that have plagued Campbell’s career, it was the one off-field incident during his time in America that will go down as the lowest. (And one that scared him into the water.)

“When I was [college], the army came to do team building and we went to the diving pool, which was ridiculously deep. I had to get into the water and at the time, I had no idea how to cross the water… and I had nightmares for weeks after that because I woke up thinking I was drowning… yeah, it wasn’t good. .”

Apart from all this, the defender has been able to play real football and not just with those throw-ins. How did he persevere through setbacks, self-doubt and calls for early retirement? “I keep looking at pictures of me playing at home in Ireland when I was little and it feels like I’m playing for that little girl who always dreamed of playing and so I’m not going to give up now.”

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