Waterford player's winding road to camogie All-Star an inspirational thing
There was plenty of excitement in the Rockett household on Saturday night, when Waterford camogie player Niamh was honoured with her first All-Star award.
With another impressive season put down, the 28-year-old was honoured alongside the game's finest as the best right half forward in the business. What a journey it's been, having been told at 16 that she was heading for a wheelchair if she stayed playing the game she loved.
A hockey, soccer, ladies football and camogie star as a teenager, she could have taken her pick and no matter what sport the Waterford youngster chose she was going to scale to the very peak of it.
But then suddenly out of nothing and from nowhere, everything changed. A coach noticed her limping at a training session and after going in harmlessly for an MRI scan to get peace of mind that everything was alright, she came out of it rocked to the core and with her dreams in tatters.
She'd been told that if she didn't give up sport there and then that she'd be in a wheelchair by the time she was thirty.
"It was really hard to take at the time. I was in turmoil. From having so much expectations on you and so much ambition to keep on doing what what you loved doing and what your life was all about at the time, that was such a blow and my life was just turned upside down," she said to SportsJOE last year.
A rare knee condition meant both her knees needed to be broken and realigned if she wanted to continue playing sport.
Being only sixteen though, she was still two years too young for that operation. She wasn't too young to fight it though.
"I tried absolutely everything from chiropractors to physios to strength and conditioning even to new herbs and things like that, anything that might help me get better, it was worth trying out," she said.
And so she strapped the knee up, kept playing and played a crucial role in Waterford's All-Ireland junior win in 2011. Eventually, it all caught up on her though.
Going for a ball against Meath, the knee over-extended and she doesn't remember much else. She was carted off the field concussed and brought to Navan hospital.
"I actually remember waking up in the hospital in Navan, the bus was waiting outside and I just wanted to get home...I hobbled across the room and begged the doctor to let me off."
She had come to terms with it by that stage, it was operation time in Santry with a full knee re-construction on the cards. Her cartilage had completely worn away in her knee and so the only way of supporting it was to remove some of her hamstring and place it in her knee-cap.
For a second time though, the aspiring PE and Maths teacher was told that sport was a no-go.
"The surgeon told me that only two other people in the world had the same condition as me...there was no stabiliser, there was nothing keeping my knee in place," she said.
But like always, she didn't accept that ultimatum at face value and after searching the country for even the faintest sign of hope, Cork GAA physio Declan O'Sullivan popped up and he worked wonders.
"It was the worst and the best thing I ever did. He pushed me to my absolute limits, like some of those sessions were excruciating."
Excruciating, but God they were worthwhile.
She went onto win an All-Ireland intermediate crown with Waterford in 2015 as full forward and despite the Déise struggling for two years in the senior ranks, 2018 was a big one for them as they defeated both Clare and Limerick in the championship and made it to the All-Ireland quarter final.
2020 is in the books as her finest season yet though, her speed and eye for a score inspiring Waterford to an All-Ireland quarter final. While team honours are the ultimate goal, Saturday night's individual acknowledgement was well deserved after this lonely road. The excitement in the Rockett household was great to see.
Having been told aged 16 that she'd be in a wheelchair by 30 if she kept on playing sport, you can understand the excitement in the Rockett household when @deisecamogie star Niamh won an All-Star at the weekend ⭐️pic.twitter.com/4NZ3cEIZJb
— GAA JOE (@GAA__JOE) March 8, 2021
"You just have to give it constant care, there are times I'd have to sit out training and that's frustrating but you just have to keep battling away. There are people out there who can't play sport at all so I'm just going to keep on fighting for it...My family and friends are always there for me and that makes it a lot easier too," she said.
Never give up on that dream.
Niamh Rockett at the launch of Littlewoods Ireland’s #styleofplay campaign for the National Camogie Leagues. Littlewoods Ireland will live stream 6 games during the National Camogie League, bringing the sport to over 100,000 fans.
This article was originally published in 2019.