In our latest feature article where we meet some of the names and faces from around Scottish Women’s football Campbell Finlayson speaks to Courtney Keary about what has been a tough few years for the Glasgow Women midfielder and how timing, so far, has never quite seemed to be on her side.
A knee injury is never pleasant for any football player, but having to face four operations before your 22nd birthday could leave you wondering why always me?
That is the case for Glasgow Women midfielder Courtney Keary who has already had to overcome a number of challenges throughout her career. Now back injury free she, like all other players, faces a spell on the sidelines thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic but she is happy to be ready to play the sport she loves
Taking me back to the time of her first injury, Keary says: “The first time I did my Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) and meniscus I was 17. I had bother at training and it felt like it had kept going so I saw physios but they couldn’t determine what it was.”
“We had a game against Celtic when I was at Rangers and I was dying to play. I was the captain and it was a League Cup semi. I had it taped up and went on after half time but something didn’t feel right, I went to drop short for a throw in and it just felt like it snapped. I’d played on for about a year until I said something isn’t right here so I went for an MRI and found I had a cartilage tear and done my ACL so it was gutting at the time.”
For a 17-year old, not being able to do anything is a real set back and for Keary it was no different, with the injury affecting all areas of her life.
She says: “It was difficult because at the time I was in fifth year at school doing my higher exams. I had to go into school on crutches, I could hardly walk. There was no time for me to be off school, I couldn’t afford it with my exams.”
“It’s also difficult as well because you’re so young, you’ve not got freedom anyway so I was stuck in the house with my parents, I couldn’t drive, I was just surrounded by the same four walls because it was that hard to move. It was damaging for your mental health as well because all you know is playing football and being fit and active so it was devastating.”
“I’ve always been injury prone but every injury I’d had I’d only been out for about six weeks and that’s gutting so once I found out what it was it was devastating. I thought I was never going to play football again.”
At Rangers at the time, the club were supportive and stayed behind the midfielder throughout those injuries but unfortunately for Keary, the bad luck would continue as she explains:
“After I had my ACL restructured and my meniscus fixed via a hamstring graft I came back and started training with Rangers for over a year and got lots of work in. Then Amy (McDonald) decided I’d be with the first team because they had a physio at every session which just meant I had that extra bit of support.”
“It was in another session, there was nothing in it, my studs got caught in the grass and that was it, there was a different kind of pain and I thought nothing of it. I sat out for two to three weeks, the physio thought it was just a wee tear so I trained for about eight weeks and then played with the reserves against Cumbernauld Colts. I was allowed on in the last ten minutes, I kicked the ball once and couldn’t even stand up, the pain was excruciating. That’s when I did my meniscus on its own and that was so much sorer than the ACL tear, I honestly thought my leg had snapped in half and the team had to carry me off the pitch.”
“Hearing it was my meniscus again was a really hard time. I was stuck in the house, back at square one and I was thinking I’m never going to get over this, this is going to haunt me for the rest of my life but again I got the operation, got back playing and unfortunately it happened again.”
“That time I thought to myself, right, I’m doing something wrong here, it’s got to be something I’m doing wrong in my rehab but I was doing everything the physio had said to do right and it turned out that I was really weak in the hamstring and that’s what was causing the injury to keep reoccurring.”
The end of the 2019 season however saw changes in Scottish women’s football, with development teams being disbanded, meaning Keary’s time at Rangers was over. Glasgow Women offered her the chance to get back playing with them, but not after she had contemplated giving up the game.
She says: “I’d just come out the rear end of the (fourth) operation and been training for maybe six or seven months and having spoken to the coaches about just training, it was hard to watch the girls play on a Sunday for that time but I knew it was the best thing for me to do to get my fitness up and make sure I was 100%. I sat out, I waited, I bared my time and couldn’t wait for this season. “
“I said, this is my time, this is my year and then it all got taken away from me and I was thinking to myself, is this it, do I just throw the towel in? But my mum, my dad and the girls at Rangers were like Courtney don’t do it, how long have you waited for this moment, you can’t throw it away, there will be something else for you.”
“That’s when Joycey (Craig Joyce) and Iain (Ferrie) got in touch and were really keen to get me in and had a lot of faith in me. Iain had been a coach at Rangers so I came in and he said to me, ‘You’ve got the potential, you’re a player I don’t want to slip through the gap and I want to get you in’ and since I’ve came in they’ve been brilliant, I can’t praise them anymore, they’re so helpful.”
“Craig has had problems with his knees as well so he’s very understanding if he sees me pull up because there’s still times at training where it feels a little bit weak but they’re very supportive about that so I’m in the right place.”
With the stop-start nature of her career any lengthy spells without injury like the one she currently finds herself in are brilliant for Keary, allowing her to focus on football again. Of course, there is still the worry that things could go wrong again, but she prefers to stay away from the negatives:
“I have to target my hamstring area because it was something I always had bother with but I had my last meniscus operation in February 2019 so just over a year ago and this is the longest spell I’ve been back playing football so that’s great.
“I’m fortunate to be kicking a ball about again and I’m pain free and feeling good so that’s something I never thought I’d get to but it’s one of these worries when I’m kicking a ball in training or with my friends and family, it’s always in the back of my mind that if this happens again, am I going to get back this time?“
“I just try to remain positive because I know I’ve done everything right, I’ve changed the way I do my rehab, I’ve targeted different areas and now being at Glasgow Women the coaches are very supportive, they keep an eye on me, the physios and everything they’re great, but you just need to remain positive about it. I’m always scared about it in the back of my mind but having overcome it already so many times, if it had to happen then touch wood I’d know how to get over it and handle myself.”
Back fully fit and at a new club with a new season beginning things looked perfect for the midfielder, but then came yet another setback as the coronavirus spread across the world, bringing life to a halt, including the football season. All Keary can do is laugh, but she is grateful for the fact that she can play again:
“I had a catch-up with Craig the other day and we laughed about it, if this isn’t my luck then I don’t know what is. I said to Craig that I’ve been through worse and didn’t think I’d get back to playing so just watching that I’m fit and using this time to build even more and doing more rehab. Although my knee is really fit it has given me this extra few months to get 1000% okay. I am gutted we only got one game in but I got a bit of game time, I had a good buzz about me so it has just came at a rubbish time because I felt like that was me, my fitness was where I wanted it to be. I’ve still got a wee bit to work on of course but it’s came at a bad time.”
“For me, I can look at the positives as well and think of it as time I wouldn’t have had before to do a bit extra on my own and work on my knees and my hamstrings to make sure I am 100% ready to go. I’ve just got to keep myself ticking over both physically and mentally because mentally it is draining for everyone being stuck in the house and things like that so it’s came at a tough time but I’ve got to take it on the chin and do everything I can physically and mentally to stay positive.”
Keeping yourself busy is the problem that everyone faces during this lockdown and for footballers, it’s no different. With clubs setting out training and fitness programmes they are giving the players something to focus on which Keary is grateful for.
She explains: “I’ve got a programme set out for the team, a couple of running sessions, a couple of strength sessions. I’ve got my own stuff from Kelly (Lightfoot) as well, she’s been in contact with me working on my knee, hamstring, glutes stuff and quads as well so it’s a different workout from the girls to do some days, cycling stuff to do as well.”
“The only thing I’m struggling with is not being able to use the pool, something I rely on quite a lot. The water resistance I found very helpful and very beneficial in my recovery so I am missing that but the club has been great in supplying me with stuff to do and I’m fortunate that I have family members who have gyms as well so lucky enough to have access to have gym equipment to help myself too.”
The NHS have received lots of praise since lockdown began, with a nationwide applause every Thursday helping to thank them for the job they are doing under the pressure they face, and Keary pays her own respects to them for not only what they are doing now, but also for the part they have played in her life, saying:
“These people have been crucial in my life; if it wasn’t for them then I wouldn’t be where I am today, I’m very thankful to every single one of them. They’re all doing a great job, I couldn’t put myself on that front line if I tried, they’re all very special and unique and there for a reason and this has just kind of highlighted how important they are, they’re probably the most important people in the country at this minute in time and maybe should be all the time.”
“They’re fantastic and doing a great job and everyone’s just got to support these guys and do everything they can to keep each other safe and give them as less stress as they can because they’re doing amazing, I couldn’t be any more thankful to them.”
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