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Mustaki savours 'night to remember' after beating cancer and serious injury to play for Ireland

The Shelbourne player made her senior international debut last night.
Feb 20th 2022, 5:26 PM 52,513 5

Updated Feb 20th 2022, 8:29 PM

“I DEFINITELY HAD tears in my eyes,” says Chloe Mustaki, reflecting on last night’s bus journey back to the team hotel in La Manga following Ireland’s game against Russia.

The 1-0 defeat cost an experimental Irish team a place in Tuesday’s Pinatar Cup final against Belgium. For Mustaki, however, the outcome is unlikely to spoil the personal significance of a milestone that was manifested from years of hard work and boundless resilience.

vera-pauw-speaks-to-her-team-after-the-game The Ireland team in a huddle after last night's Pinatar Cup game against Russia. Source: Martin Seras Lima/INPHO

The former Republic of Ireland U19 captain has overcome the emotional turmoil of encountering two major hurdles to achieve her long-held ambition of becoming a senior international.

Brighton & Hove Albion goalkeeper Megan Walsh and 16-year-old forward Abbie Larkin also earned their first caps, but it was Larkin’s clubmate at Shelbourne who marked her debut with the award for Player of the Match.

“It was definitely a night to remember,” Mustaki said today. “I think the [Player of the Match] award probably could have gone to a number of different people. The two other debutants had fantastic games, so all in all I’m probably sharing it with those two as well.”

Mustaki appeared to be on the verge of a first senior Ireland appearance in March 2020, only to suffer a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament [ACL] in her knee on the eve of the European Championship qualifier against Greece.

With her rehabilitation curbed by the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak, the versatile defender eventually returned to action with Shels following an 18-month lay-off.

The injury had been a big setback for Mustaki, who already knew what it was like to be presented with unexpected challenges. In February 2015, she completed her treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma — a form of blood cancer.

“I think everyone knows how much it means to me,” she said of her Ireland debut. “Not just after the ACL, but the lymphoma when I was younger as well.

“I finished my U19 career and two weeks later I was diagnosed with cancer. Coming back from that, being so close to my first senior cap and then tearing my ACL, so I think emotionally everyone knew how much it meant to me.

“It was a strange feeling on the bus on the way back to the hotel, looking at my phone for the first time and seeing the messages from family, friends and everyone around me who knew how much it meant to me and congratulated me for sticking with it.

“I’ll probably think back to last night for a long time. While overall I think it was probably a mixed performance from myself, I am really proud of myself and I don’t really pat myself on the back too much, but I definitely can after last night.”

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While excelling at the back for Ireland against Russia, Mustaki put forward a strong case to retain her place in the side for the third-place play-off against Wales on Tuesday.

If she’s required to do more to outline her value to Vera Pauw’s team in an area where the manager doesn’t lack options, the 26-year-old won’t be deterred.

chloe-mustaki-dejected-after-the-game Mustaki joined Shelbourne last year after a spell in England with Charlton Athletic. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“Everyone is going to have road bumps along the way,” added Mustaki, who helped her club clinch the Women’s National League title last season.

“I suppose I’ve had two bad ones quite early on but I’m sure there are more to come. You just have to realise that everyone experiences them at different stages of their life and you need to keep going because there’s no other option.

“As long as you have the right people around you to keep you going on the bad days, that’s all that matters, because life is definitely a mixture of ups and downs.”

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Paul Dollery

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