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Tracking cycle and managing load key for three-time cruciate victim Jarrett after pro move

‘I just wake up every day and it’s a breath of fresh air not to have to sit at a desk for eight hours.’

I NEVER REALLY looked at going professional because there was a four-year spell where I’d played very little football. For me, it was just about getting back and going from there…

The third one was the hardest. I started to lose motivation, I was just going through the motions. But mentally, I learned a lot about myself and it helped me when I eventually got back.

RIANNA JARRETT’S JOURNEY is well documented by now. 

rianna-jarrett Rianna Jarrett. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

But every time she tells it, there’s a new story, a new yarn, a new detail that opens a whole new door.

In short: 26 now, Jarrett was an underage prodigy back home in Wexford, and with Ireland at underage level. Then, she was struck down by three dreaded knee injuries by the age of 21, but battled back to star for Wexford Youths and establish herself as one of the best strikers on these shores. Serious graft saw her break the senior international scene and star on the biggest stages in the world, all the while working a full-time office job, though she recently signed her first professional deal with Brighton & Hove Albion. 

Jarrett enjoyed a dream debut last week, in which she scored twice to mark her return from another minor knee setback. Thankfully though, this one was just a niggle, given she’s had three Anterior Cruciate Ligament [ACL] reconstructions — two on her right, one on the left one.

In November’s FAI Cup final victory in the Aviva Stadium — her Youths swansong — Jarrett hyper-extended her knee and that was giving her a small bit of trouble through December and January, before she signed for the Seagulls. 

She was looking at “one or two other clubs,” before Brighton won the Wexford native’s signature: “Obviously, the opportunity to play full-time was fantastic and something that I was looking to do, but I’m not a 17 or 18-year-old kid, I’m 26 this year and I’ve been through a lot to get to where I am today. I wasn’t going to jump at the first option.”

Consideration for her injury history and management of her load was understandably a massive factor in her decision, so the English top-tier side’s approach certainly appealed to Jarrett from the get-go. Reassurance that she would be put first, along with necessary facilities and resources, were key.

Ireland manager Vera Pauw knows Brighton boss, former England international Hope Powell, so that was a good start. Jarrett spoke to family, friends, fellow players at home and abroad, physios, doctors and medical staff to get a feel for what she needed in whichever professional set-up she chose. And went from there.

“Once I had that conversation with Brighton and their medical staff, and with Hope, I was reassured,” she continues. “The way they put it was they weren’t going to take that leap of faith, investing in me to just throw me into the deep end where they couldn’t get the best out of me.

“The important thing is that I am ready to play and can perform on the weekend, like every player. They are not going to kill them during the week to the extent that they can’t perform on the Sunday. So it was just getting that reassurance.

It was about monitoring my load, that it didn’t spike too much as I went from part-time to full-time [football]. It was important they didn’t put too much pressure on me right away, and thankfully I had that backing.

“The last thing anyone wanted was for me to get injured again,” she adds, with a nod to the club over anyone else. They took a risk investing in her, and made the signing on a six-month basis knowing she wasn’t fit to play straight away.

Jarett signed on the Women’s Super League’s [WSL] deadline day on 23 January after an extremely swift exit from her day job in Equifax to facilitate the move. “It was enjoyable,” she adds on the work, “but I didn’t want to be sitting on a phone for the rest of my life.”

With every word, it’s clear as day that Jarrett is loving life at her new home across the water. The backing from the men’s team is great, she says, while the women’s team base is at the Amex and Jarrett lives with Ireland team-mate Megan Connolly.

It’s all about micro-managing things day-by-day, monitoring her training load and decreasing it or altering the approach if it’s too high. It’s a massive step up, of course, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the environment increases the chance of an injury recurrence.

You’re more likely to get injured when your body is fatigued and if you’re putting it under pressure when you are tired, even if that’s a player who is used to training full-time. 

harrett Jarrett celebrates scoring on her debut. Source: Brighton & Hove Albion.

The impact of players’ menstrual cycles on their sporting endeavors is something that is quite topical at the moment, after Chelsea revealed that the club tailor the team’s training around individuals’ cycles in an attempt to enhance performance and reduce injuries.

Teams on these shores and abroad are using the FitrWoman app, and Jarrett says it’s something she’s been focusing on too considering the incidence of ACL injuries are up to eight times higher at certain stages in one’s cycle.

“They monitor when everyone is on the start of their period,” she adds on life at Brighton. “I know Chelsea have released an article on how they are doing it. I think they are going into it in a lot more collective detail.

But even here in camp with the Irish team, before we come in, they want to know when you had your last cycle and what point you are at, so they can monitor that.

“Sometimes they do tailor your training sessions around what stage everybody is in. Obviously everybody is going to be at a different stage, so it is going to be difficult to track that. But it is becoming more and more important and people are looking more into it. I think the US women’s national team had someone in especially to monitor all that and tailor that.”

It is all down to the individual though, she agrees, but it can’t be ignored that menstrual cycles do have an impact on a player’s game. 

“I suppose it’s something you can’t plan for or prepare for,” Jarrett notes. “Each period can be different, you can be feeling different things on different days. I suppose it just depends on how you are feeling every day.

“There are things you can take to mask cramps or flow or whatever, but exercise actually helps when you are on your period. I find that anyway.

“You probably feel a lot worse if you are sitting around or are at a desk. But if you are actually active and moving around, including in a full-on game situation, it does help to improve it.”

Sitting at said desk is no longer a worry for the Ireland striker, though life across the water is quite a change in other aspects. She mentioned some differences already, but another surrounds the fact that she’s starting fresh and coming in at the bottom of the pecking order, while she was an established star here.

“I was virtually unknown over there and there is no real pressure from anyone outside for me to succeed,” she nods. “None of the girls on the team knew what to expect from me and going into the game on Tuesday they were all excited to see me play.

For me, I just wake up every day and it’s a breath of fresh air not to have to sit at a desk for eight hours, that’s the biggest difference… and getting used to not only the level of training but more training throughout the week.

Almost at full fitness, it’s easy to reflect on the many low points during her lengthy injury spells. As alluded to in the intro, it came during the third ACL setback. A few months after surgery, she began to lose motivation but meetings with former Ireland men’s fitness coach and IT Carlow lecturer Dan Horan set her on the straight and narrow.

“He asked me what I wanted to get out of this,” she recalls. “I was thinking at that time that I only wanted to go and have a kick about on the street with my friends and two brothers. He was like, ‘Okay, we can get you to that.’

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“We had a detailed conversation and I had a little bit of a breakdown. About a week later, we had the same conversation and I didn’t miss a training session or match with Wexford from then on. Even when I was injured, I still enjoyed being around the whole set-up.

“We spoke again later on and I said that I wanted to get playing for Wexford and hopefully international too.”

rianna-jarrett-celebrates-scoring-her-sides-second-goal Jarrett after scoring her first Ireland goal in October. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Horan’s fitness programmes sparked Jarrett back to life and though a viral infection extended her recovery period, prolonging the return benefited her in the long run.

Her heart, understandably, goes out to team-mate Megan Campbell with the Manchester City defender recently suffering another long-term injury having had her fair share already. 

“Megan’s had a horrible time with injuries over the past few years,” Jarrett frowns. “It seems she gets a set-back every time she’s on the verge of coming back.

Anyone that’s experienced any sort long-term injury knows that mentally, more than physically, it does drains you. The more you get, the more it impacts you. Mentally she’s well capable of returning to us.

“Hopefully she can hit the ground running again and see her sooner rather than later.”

That’s just what Jarrett did when she got a real chance in the green jersey under Vera Pauw against Ukraine. A Player of the Match Performance and a goal. Here’s to many more.

“Ah, it was fantastic to get my first senior goal in an Ireland jersey,” she beams, “but the three points was the most important thing that day. As they’re second seeds, that was a massive result to put us in a strong position.

“That doesn’t mean we can take anything for granted. The job is not done yet. We’re looking to keep a clean sheet and it doesn’t matter who scores the goals.”
A Greek tragedy in the meantime came as a bump in the road on Ireland’s path to Euro 2021, but they’ll be hoping to put that right tonight at Tallaght Stadium [kick-off 7pm, RTÉ]. And Jarrett, like everyone, is hoping for another special night in Tallaght.

“We were disappointed with the result in Greece,” she concludes. “We have a lot to improve on but it’s all a stepping stone, a learning curve.

“You always reflect on the previous game. Our focus is three points from Greece and I don’t see why we can’t. We have the players capable of doing it.”

Jarrett being one of many.

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Emma Duffy

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