Galway sports star and Kilkerrin/Clonberne footballer Nicola Ward has endured a challenging six months since suffering a knee injury in last year's All Ireland Senior Club final.
Sidelined at home, she was also forced to defer some of her final year work towards her nursing degree, but is now fit and ready for both again.
“I just finished my degree in nursing five weeks ago, so I had been home since then," says Ward. "There have been a lot of changes in that time."
The coronavirus was taking hold just as she was finishing her UCD studies and work experience in Crumlin, but she has now taken up her first job at the children's hospital.
“I have been lucky to be kept busy up until now with college work and my placement in Crumlin, but I only got that finished up recently and then I had to get all of my registration sorted. But work is good. It’s nice to be back in a routine again. It’s busy, but very enjoyable.
“Working with children it is more mentally tough, but the job is really rewarding. You follow the children through their journey in the hospital, you help them through their sickness and seeing them improve is very satisfying.”
Ward is also an ambassador for Lidl which has brought together the Ladies Gaelic Football Association and Jigsaw to help spearhead youth mental health services amid COVID-19 crisis.
“The Covid-19 restrictions can affect the mental health of everyone. Luckily the weather has been good and we have been able to get out, but it still can affect the mental health of people,” said Ward.
“Jigsaw is an online mental health forum for children, but there is help there too for their parents and guardians. The information is a huge help and it is there for everyone. Keeping Jigsaw’s services alive now is more important than ever.”
Now five months since her surgery, Ward is also hoping to be ready when sport returns later in the year. She has started running again following surgery to reattach her damaged knee cartilage.
"I had hoped to be back for championship in June and if sport returns later on in the year I’ll be okay. But a lot of it depends on how the running goes for me. Hopefully I have no flare-ups and bad reactions, but so far I’m easing back into it nice and slowly.
Twin sister Louise who is a physiotherapist, has also been a help.
“I was doing a bit of ball work in the last few weeks. Myself and Louise were out kicking it back and over to each other – that was all I was able to manage. It is a while since we had that kind of time together. We missed out on that the last while, but we are still keen to get back playing before the end of the year.
“For my injury I have the time to get it right, I won’t have to push myself to get back for what we thought was going to be a June return. Whenever the game returns, I’ll be ready.
* Jigsaw’s new online mental health services are available at www.JigsawOnline.ie