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The quiet leader in the Bohs dressing room who's back stronger after a cruel knee injury

A key player for a team on the rise, Sophie Watters is clocking up the miles between Dundalk and Dublin while leading a busy life off the pitch.

SOPHIE WATTERS REMEMBERS it well, the horrific moment etched in her mind.

Not long after returning from breaking her ankle, she was getting back in to the swing of playing football. She was finding her feet again with Crusaders in the Northern Ireland Premiership after a lengthy stay at Women’s National League [WNL] side Shelbourne.

An U17 and U19 Irish international, the future certainly looked bright for Watters. 

Until a tackle from behind stopped her in her tracks.

One which could have ended it all for another aspiring top-level footballer.

aoife-robinson-celebrates-after-scoring-a-goal-with-sophie-watters Sophie Watters (left) celebrates with Aoife Robinson after the latter scored a goal for Bohemians. Source: Brian Reilly-Troy/INPHO

“I knew straight away when it went,” she tells The42. “I heard like three little pops. I think any player, if they hear anything in their knee they automatically think ACL [anterior cruciate ligament].”

The cruciate ligament was far from the extent of the damage, the Dundalk native also tearing her meniscus, LCL [lateral collateral ligament] and calf muscle.

“It was all kind of in one. It was a bad one, obviously,” Watters says, with the benefit of hindsight. Within days, she was back walking on it and back in the gym. Her fears alleviated, thinking it was just a strain.

“I didn’t think was too serious. Then I got the scan three or four weeks later, and I obviously found out everything in my knee was just gone. I headed for the operation, I think, two weeks after that

“The recovery was long as well but I’m just happy to be back playing now.”

The road back was certainly a bumpy one, with some setbacks along the way, and took the guts of two years.

Both physically and mentally, it was challenging, but it was one Watters was ready for.

“I felt like I was only getting back back to fitness and getting back to myself playing. And then that happened,” she explains, finding it difficult to accept at the beginning.

I knew it was gonna be a long road, both physically and mentally. But I had my friends and family, they helped me a lot and even Dundalk FC, the club, they helped me as well. Sam Rice was the physio there and he helped me a lot.”

She bided her time as her comeback neared, opting to put her return on ice for the last month of the 2019 season and start fresh in 2020 with a full pre-season under her belt.

Around the same time, she got a phone call from Bohemians assistant manager, Pat Trehy.

The Gypsies were entering a team into the WNL, and what an addition Watters would be, having played three seasons with Shels — from the age of 16 after a glittering underage career — in the league already.

I just thought that was the best opportunity for me, even just to get back to myself. A new start for me, a new start for the club and I just felt like it was the best option for me to get back.

“I love being back with the new club. All the girls are really nice. The management’s really, really good. As a team, we can see the improvement from last season.

“Obviously, last season was really, really tough for us, just getting started. The way things started with the Covid and we were late coming into the league, it was hard to get settled into it. We knew it was gonna be like that, but this season, you can see the improvements already.”

Waters is a key player for this team on the rise, co-captain alongside Chloe Flynn and a quiet leader in the dressing room, doing much of her talking on the field.

An industrious attacking midfielder, the 22-year-old often pops up with eye-catching goals, her hard work and commitment off the field reflected in her class on it. 

Living, studying, and working in Dundalk, Watters clocks up the miles to and from the capital week on week.

“I’ve been doing it for years so I’m used to it by now. It takes about an hour to get up and then an hour down. It’s not too bad, I suppose, straight off the M50. I don’t mind it, it has to be done.”

The past couple of weeks have been “a bit mad,” she grins, coming to the end of her degree in Sports Exercise and Enterprise in DkIT. With a dissertation due on top of online college and part-time work as a gym instructor, it’s been all go.

But using her time wisely along with pre-planning and organisation is key.

She takes it all in her stride, thankful to have football as a constant in such a busy, and uncertain, time amidst the pandemic.

After a dream 6-2 opening day win over Treaty United, in which Watters was on target; a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Galway out West — “We felt we were unlucky,” she says, “a few silly mistakes, obviously you can’t be making them at this level and it kind of cost us the three points” — and a thrilling 3-3 draw with Cork City last time out, Bohs have enjoyed a decent start to the new season, having finished bottom in 2020.

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Onwards and upwards now.

“We felt like we should have got more against Cork, but we’ll take the point and move on,” she nods, again silly mistakes to be eradicated. “We went behind but we fought hard to come back and I felt like it was a hard-earned point at the end of the day.

“Hopefully we can push on and get a few more results now.”

With a serious buzz around the league this year, Watters is optimistic about the future and enjoying her football. “There’s no real weak team” in the competition, so you always have to be on your A-game, she assures. “Every week, you know you’re going to have a tough match and any win that you get will be hard-fought.”

So who better than to come up against today than all-conquering Peamount United in a Dublin derby? [KO 2pm, Oscar Traynor Centre]

The 2020 league and cup double champions are eyeing three-in-a-row this season, and James O’Callaghan’s side have showed no signs of slowing down.

Everyone knows just how good they are, but it’s a battle Watters is certainly relishing.

She makes no secret of that.

“To be the best, you have to play against the best,” she concludes. “We’ve our homework done on them and our training done so hopefully we can just put it into place on Saturday and try and get a result.”

********************

Saturday’s Series Four WNL fixtures

  • Bohemians v Peamount United, 2pm
  • Cork City v DLR Waves, 2pm
  • Galway v Treaty United, 4pm
  • Wexford Youths v Athlone Town, 6.30pm.

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

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Emma Duffy

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