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Dublin: 6 °C Tuesday 26 March, 2019
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'I was rushed into a side-room and a doctor said, 'You're heading towards kidney failure''

Sligo goalkeeper Noelle Gormley shares her story.

“EVERYTHING CHANGED,” NOELLE Gormley says as she casts her mind back to Sunday 25 March.

noelle 1 Noelle Gormley.

Just eight days prior, the Sligo goalkeeper had been between the posts in the TG4 All-Stars exhibition match in Bangkok, and put on a stellar display.

But a run of the mill knock she sustained that day, combined with other factors, left her life in serious danger as she sat in Sligo General Hospital little over a week later.

And facing into her side’s TG4 Connacht intermediate final against Roscommon tomorrow, she’s just grateful to be part of the panel. Lacing up the boots and donning the jersey will mark just how far she’s come over the past few weeks and months.

“It seems so small but yet it’s so big,” she smiles.

***

 

A standard clash during the All-Star exhibition game left Gormley feeling a bit sore, but that’s football. You have that. Played on, not a bother, she says. Hitting the astro turf, maybe a bit of whiplash, a back injury of some sort but nothing major. It’d pass.

“At the time I was like, ‘Jesus I can’t miss the boat trip, I can’t miss the night out,’” she tells The42, laughing now that she knows all is well again.

“I just got on with it. The pain got that bad that I got immune to it. I was able to manage it. If it happened back in Ireland it would have been fine but because of the severe temperatures, my kidney was in shock.

“It just wasn’t taking any fluid on board. I was drinking water but obviously it wasn’t being retained.

“It hit me a few days later.”

The journey home went relatively smooth. She has a few vivid memories from it here and there, one as she woke up to Dublin star Sinead Goldrick doing her utmost to make her eat an Easter egg.

“You better eat, you have to get something into you,” the 2017 All-Ireland winning defender encouraged, but Gormley was having none. She didn’t feel herself, but still thought nothing of it.

Wrecked after landing in Dublin, again she just thought it was normal procedure. She got a lift down to Sligo and knew she was weakening as they drove. She got out of the car at one point to stretch the legs and thought, ‘Jesus, I can hardly walk’.

“I was struggling but I just couldn’t wait for a cup of tea and to get home to my own bed,” she continues.

And when she did get home, and after a bit of rest on the Wednesday and Thursday?

“I thought it was jet lag. I just didn’t feel great, I didn’t want to eat. On Friday, I just took a turn. I didn’t feel well at all. I went to the doctor and he thought it might have just been a virus. He gave me something for sickness or whatever.”

Grand, well that’s what she thought. And then on Sunday, in her own words, everything changed. The tiredness and ill-feeling was on another level: “I had no energy. Really sick, awful pain, couldn’t walk.”

Stephaine O'Reilly celebrates with the trophy and her teammates Sligo won the NFL Division 3 title in 2015. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

She was admitted to hospital — against her will, she didn’t want a fuss — told they’d take her bloods and she’d be sent on her way.

“I said, ‘Sound, no bother, that’s great. I’ll sleep it off…..’ Then I was rushed into a side-room, a doctor came in and said, ‘You’re heading towards kidney failure.’

All hell just broke loose, as she puts it. At the time, there was a family member in the room with her and a million thoughts ran through her head.

“Between me nearly falling off the bed and her nearly falling off the chair, it was a big shock,” she recalls.

“I never took it into consideration that it might be my kidneys. I just thought it was back pain and just the travel difference really, Asian belly like, and changing back. You get back home and everything will be sound, that’s how I had it in my head.

“I was like, ‘Ah sure, I’ll sleep it off’ but then I was told I was hours away from failure. It was quite scary at the time. For me, as the patient going through it, I was just taking each day as I came but it was worrying for others looking in. I didn’t know what the fuss was about really.

“I was getting texts from all over the country. Even one of the county girls came in to see me, they went out crying. It was gone around that I was gone. It was scary from that point of view, for them.

“I didn’t hear any of it because it was the outside world to me. I was in the luxury of getting five-star meals in The General like,” she grins, her wittiness always shining through, despite all.

“I didn’t eat from once I left Bangkok for 10 days. I went through 18 bags of fluid in the hospital, I was thinking I’d be ready for midfield at this stage — I was the most hydrated person going!

“Because my immune system was low, I picked up a virus then on top of that in the airport. I got absolutely everything, I got absolutely destroyed. I’ve had infections left, right and centre.

“I spent nine days in the hospital. I was told they didn’t know what it was. I was tested for everything, was told I wouldn’t kick a ball again, I wouldn’t play again, I was very sick. It took a long time to figure out.”

As Gormley was discharged, she was put on a long-term recovery plan. After two-and-a-half months out of work — the St Nathy’s star credits her employers for their support — she’s back at it again, feeling much better and is thankful to be how she is.

“I’ve come a long way. I’ve a lot more energy now. You have to act on the energy. Even if it comes at 10 o’clock at night, you have to act on it.

“I just kind of took each day as it came and went with it. If I had to sleep, I had to sleep.

“The concentration levels and the tiredness levels, there’s some days that you turn up for training and you might be ready to go but you just can’t do it. I never thought I’d say it but I couldn’t actually wait to go for a jog, or to actually go out and kick a ball.

LGFA and Orreco team up to promote ground-breaking FitrWoman App Launching the FitrWoman app. Source: Piaras Ó Mídheach/SPORTSFILE

“You took the little things for granted really. In saying that, it’s been a long road but I’m glad it’s behind me. I wasn’t complaining, there’s a lot more people out there that’s in a position that they’re a lot sicker than me.”

Perspective — the extra sense the illness and events have given her is huge, she says.

“It’s put a lot into perspective. Your health is your wealth, you know, and it’s about actually not taking things for granted and just actually living in the moment rather than what it could be or what it should have been.

“When I came home from Thailand, I knew what I was working, what I was doing the following week. Things changed for me on that Sunday evening. I didn’t expect any of this, didn’t envision any of this.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow so stop thinking about it.”

Football is, and always has been, one constant through her life, and while it was taken away from her, there was a void. She’s itching to get back at it again but for now, she’s taking things as they come.

She’s back doing a small bit of running but getting back to full health is her priority.

“Every day is different,” Gormley explains. “I’m on a treatment plan to reduce the inflammation and we’ll just see how we go from there.

“My consultant sees me every two weeks, I’m constantly being monitored. I feel like a lab rat at this stage – it’s something that they’ve never seen before. It was relatively new, trying to figure out what it was.

“It’s a slow process. It’s slower than I thought. It’s very hard not having control over your life or not being able to control how you feel every day. There’s things I would have taken for granted — I’d wake up, I know I’m training that night so I treat it as a training day. Now I have to go with my body. I don’t know how I’m going to feel when I wake up, I don’t know how I’m going to feel every hour. That has been the hardest thing to adapt to.

In 2018, Gormley has played for Sligo just once and then she lined out in that All-Star game. On the club front, she’s yet to line out for her beloved St Nathy’s.

“You’re always been setting targets like, ‘I want to be back for this date’. Those dates just keep bypassing and bypassing.

“I just wasn’t able, I had no energy. There’s some days where I couldn’t get out of bed and then there was other days where I became a coach really. I couldn’t train so I ended up coaching to fill my time and make sure I exercised each day.

“I went from training six days a week to not even being able to walk at an intense pace. I’ve nearly become the best spectator on my club pitch at the minute over when I was sick. It was my thing of getting out, but yet I couldn’t walk 20 yards. It was challenging.”

***

That’s the thing though. It’s always been a challenge. In Gormley’s first year with the Sligo seniors at the tender age of 16, they were beaten in the All-Ireland junior final in Croke Park.

Noelle Gormley and Mairead Stenson In action in 2006. Source: Andrew Paton/INPHO

That was 2004. They lost again in 2005, but made it third time lucky in 2006. She was there consecutively back then, and has been ever since.

“It’s a long time soldiering,” she smiles. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. It’s been a different challenge throughout but I don’t regret anything.”

She speaks glowingly, and shares tales of Paddy Henry at the helm and the journey throughout. And tomorrow the journey continues as they gear up for the Connacht intermediate decider.

Gormley is named on the bench, there in a different capacity. But she’s eternally grateful to be there, and to be able to pull that black and white jersey over her head once again.

“Roscommon have always been such a  tough challenge,” she concludes of their opponents for the MacHale Park showdown.

“They’ve minor All-Ireland successes, they’ve been getting to finals as well. For us, we’ve lost 16 players off last year’s panel which is huge. Those are players that I’ve soldiered with for the last 14 or 15 years.

“It’s a chance for other girls to put on the Sligo jersey, earn it and represent their county. It’s a big occasion for them on that front.”

And likewise, for herself.

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About the author:

Emma Duffy

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