Time is on the side of ‘grateful’ Mustaki thanks to fast-tracked ACL surgery

HAVING SUSTAINED A long-term injury on the eve of a potential senior debut for the Republic of Ireland, Chloe Mustaki was due some good fortune.

It came her way last Tuesday via a phone call from the Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry.

Near the end of Ireland’s final training session ahead of their 1-0 victory against Greece earlier this month, Mustaki ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament [ACL].

She was originally pencilled in for surgery on 10 April, but with the ongoing Covid-19 crisis likely to postpone the procedure, renowned surgeon Ray Moran was able to perform the knee reconstruction on Wednesday morning.

It may be 2021 by the time she’s able to play again, and current circumstances will complicate her rehabilitation, but Mustaki is relieved to have avoided a significant delay on the road to recovery.

“It would have been pretty heartbreaking otherwise because it would have pushed my recovery out for another four-to-six months, which is not what you want as an athlete,” she says. “I’m hugely grateful for that.”

Initially the injury setback appeared to arrive at a particularly inopportune time for Mustaki. Her career progression accelerated towards the end of 2019 when her first senior Ireland call-up was followed by a move to Charlton Athletic.

With the sporting world now experiencing an indefinite lockdown, she looks set to miss far less football than she anticipated at first. Nevertheless, current circumstances will create other difficulties.

“Obviously in an ideal world we wouldn’t be in the middle of a global pandemic, but it has worked out quite favourably for me in that sense,” the 24-year-old says.

“What will be problematic is the rehab over the next couple of months because all the gyms are closed. I’m not quite sure yet how it’s going to work with Santry in terms of physio and rehab over the next while. I have yet to confirm that with them so it’s not ideal in that regard. 

“I don’t have access to everything that I’ll need or would want, but hopefully they can tailor a home-based programme for me and I can kick on with my rehab here. That’s my only worry. But otherwise, it’s good timing for me in terms of football.

“If the European Championships are pushed back for another year to 2022, that might give me a better chance of being there if Ireland qualify. Next summer might be a bit tight for me in terms of recovery, so we’ll see. Hopefully I’ll be able to break back into the squad as soon as possible and get my first cap sooner rather than later.”

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Injuries to the likes of Megan Campbell, Keeva Keenan and Megan Connolly would have made the versatile Mustaki – who can operate in defence and midfield – an attractive option to Ireland manager Vera Pauw during the most recent international window. However, she joined a growing list of absentees the day before win over the Greeks on 5 March.

“I went in for a tackle with Heather Payne,” she explains. “She got to the ball a split-second before me and the follow-through of her foot kicked my foot in the opposite direction to where my leg was going. It was quite painful. I saw the video that evening and I was already holding my knee in mid-air. It was pretty horrific, but that’s life.

“I don’t think I would have started the game but I’d like to think I would have been in with a chance of coming on. That obviously made it really disappointing for me. It was tough to take but you can’t feel too sorry for yourself. It’s an injury a lot of elite athletes go through and come out the other side of.”

Despite having overcome seemingly more daunting challenges in the past, Mustaki doesn’t play down the size of the one she currently faces.

“In terms of being able to put perspective on things, what I went through before has been hugely beneficial,” says the former Ireland U19 captain, who completed her treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma in February 2015.

“One thing about when I was going through chemo was that I was still able to get outside and go for small runs, or go up to training once a month just to see the girls and kick a ball. That’s something that has been taken away from me this time, and that’ll be the case for a good few months.

“I won’t be able to kick a ball, I won’t be able to run, and that’s something that will be – and already has been – very mentally challenging for me. In that sense it’s maybe just as difficult, but in a different way.

“But obviously being able to accept that this has happened to me has probably been a bit easier given what I’ve already gone through, in putting perspective on what really matters. It’s just a different kind of challenge.”

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