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'I'm thankful. People have gotten badly hurt and ended up with lifelong repercussions of concussion'

Ireland hooker Cliodhna Moloney details her recent HIA return, reflects on the Six Nations so far and looks to England.

THE RETURN WAS all going to plan. Cliodhna Moloney’s first taste of Six Nations action after her lengthy hiatus was better than she could ever imagine. 

The Ireland hooker was front and centre as Adam Griggs’ side powered into the lead on opening day against Scotland, and she even marked her comeback with a try. A shoulder injury, and subsequent surgery, had kept Moloney sidelined for a year. She missed the 2019 campaign, but here she was, back to her best.

Suddenly, everything came crashing down once again less than half an hour in.

liodhna-moloney-comes-up-against-kayleigh-powell Cliodhna Moloney facing Wales. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Fearless in every way, the Wasps star threw herself at a bouncing ball as a Scottish player was fly-hacking at it, and off she went for a Head Injury Assessment [HIA]. She failed it. That was that. Afternoon ended.

With her Six Nations campaign momentarily derailed, there were doubts about her round two involvement. But after passing further assessments and protocols through the week, Moloney returned to star against Wales in the eye of Storm Ciara, planting another try and helping her side to back-to-back wins.

“Look, I wasn’t good to come back on the pitch last week and that’s why that protocol is there,” Moloney said fresh from the Welsh victory.

“I’m thankful it is there because that’s where people have gotten badly hurt in the past and have ended up with lifelong repercussions of concussion. I wasn’t right when I came off, I did fail my HIA 1 and it was about coming back after that.

“I did have symptoms directly after the hit. Not headaches, I just wasn’t fully… you’re not fully in your head. I would have been no use to the girls on the pitch, which is the most important thing. Once I came off, I started the protocol pretty much straight away.”

From the next day onward, she started to feel fine, and day by day, she got better and better, but it was vital to take things step by step.

“It’s the immediate rest that’s the most important thing,” the 26-year-old banker continues, detailing the return-to-play protocol. “I didn’t work at all last week, I took a complete rest. I slept a lot, I ate all the right things, I just looked after my body.

“Once you can do that, your brain does have a chance to recover. Talking to the doctor every day, making sure you’re hydrated, sleeping lots, minimising screen time — phone, laptop, everything out the window, which is a bit boring but you just have to take the time off to know that your brain has to be good to go again.

“Then you have to build it back up. You do a bike session, you do a bit of a run. You do some light skills. I didn’t know I was symptom-free until the Captain’s Run yesterday. It wasn’t until yesterday afternoon that I found out I could play. Once I did my contact and did all my scrummaging and everything.”

“It’s important that you follow every step,” she adds, “because the first step might not get you, but the third or the fourth one — if you haven’t adhered to the guidelines — could.”

cliodhna-moloney-celebrates-scoring-the-opening-try-with-nichola-fryday-and-sene-naoupu Moloney and her teammates celebrating her try against Wales. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Moloney is thankful that she turned around pretty quickly, but it’s interesting to hear what it’s like going through a week of return-to-play protocols not knowing if you’ll be passed fit. 

The process itself takes a massive effort, understandably, and it’s something that takes its toll on the wider squad, she explains. 

“It’s difficult. It’s not difficult on me, it’s difficult on the team. On the girls that have to come in and don’t know whether they’re going to be playing or they’re going to be called into the squad. I think we had 27 players involved in this.

“It’s a slow process, but it’s probably hardest on the girls that lose out. Because they have to be in and prepared as if they’re going to start and they’re going to play. It’s a big team effort to get someone in line for a HIA return.”

Thankfully, the Galway native got over the line in every sense of the word.

She, again, marked her return with a try — “it’s nice but it’s not about who gets the scores on the board… it’s just as long as Ireland are scoring” — in a dominant Player of the Match performance.

“She was brilliant, and she’s another one that’s showing her experience,” Griggs noted afterwards. “It’s funny because she’s been in the team for a good few years now, but obviously last year, through injury she was out.

“Last week, she had the HIA that she failed. It just shows how valuable she is to our team, she’s winning turnovers, she’s within our leadership group, she’s driving standards.”

The wheel isn’t broken is one term Ireland have used a lot of late, and it’s definitely something that will be said plenty as they gear up to face the might of England in Doncaster on Sunday.

The side have shown huge improvements in many areas, and are in a good position.

cliodhna-moloney In training in Abbotstown. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

A try against the Red Roses would be nice for Moloney, the former Corofin Gaelic football star smiles. Another kind of three-in-a-row.

“Challenge accepted,” she grins. “Hopefully… it’s a big challenge.

“Look, we always love playing England regardless of where we are at as a team. Ireland against England is always a cracker and we always bring everything we can for them. It will be tough away from home, but we’re building nicely towards it.

“The pressure will only come from ourselves, we won’t be worried about anyone else. We’ll go back to the drawing board, look at where we can exploit them but focus a lot on ourselves and where we are building our game plan week on week.”

“We’re getting better at certain things, and might drop off on other things but it’s about fixing them week on week,” she added ahead of a weekend of intense training in the IRFU’s High Performance Centre. “Look, if we can get everything together, there’s nothing to say we couldn’t beat England — and why not, that’s what you go out to do.

“The team is in a good place, the team is happy, so yeah, drive on.”

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Emma Duffy

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