This article was published on the 21st February 2022 on Extra. IE Sport. This article was written by Mark Gallagher.
The smile on Chloe Mustaki’s face said it all. On Saturday evening in La Manga, the Dubliner finally made her senior international debut, almost two years after tearing her ACL in an Ireland training camp.
As she spoke to journalists over zoom yesterday, there were times when she got a little emotional as she reflected on the path that led to Saturday night, and her Playerof-the Match performance in the 1-0 defeat to a fine Russian side.
Mustaki spoke of the support from her family, her boyfriend — Dundalk player Greg Sloggett — the staff at Shelbourne and the likes of Enda King at the Santry Sports Clinic. When the anthem started playing ahead of the Pinatar Cup semi-final is a moment Mustaki will never forget.
‘It was a day and night to remember for myself,’ she said.
‘The award could have went to a number of different players, the two other debutantes [Megan Walsh and Abbie Larkin] had a fantastic game as well, so I am probably sharing it with those two. It was a long time coming over the last two years. It was hard but I am very happy.’
The ACL tear hasn’t been the only setback which the former Irish under-age captain has had to overcome. At just 19, as her senior career was starting, she was diagnosed with lymphoma.
‘Something my auntie told me early in my diagnosis when I was going through the lymphoma is that everyone experiences setbacks in life. Unfortunately I had been hit with quite a bad one quite early. I had just turned 19 when I was diagnosed. But you need to keep perspective, everyone has road bumps along the way. I had two bad ones early on, but there are more to come and it is just about realising everyone has them at different stages. As long as you have the right people around you to keep going during the bad days, that’s all that matters,’ she said.
The journey back for Mustaki from the ACL was extra lonely as it was during lockdown.
For the first few months of her recovery, she had no face-to-face contact with physios and no gyms were open. So, she ended up doing too much and that significantly delayed her rehabilitation. She missed certain milestones, and seven months in, she still wasn’t able to run.
‘That did freak me out. That is when I went to Enda King in Santry. My first day with him, I just cried in front of him and he was probably wondering what he got himself into. But he set me right and now here I am.’
Mustaki was one of Ireland’s more impressive players on a windy night in La Manga, where Brighton keeper Walsh was an assured presence behind her.
Vera Pauw selected a fairly inexperienced side against a fine Russians – it was the first time in 46 Ireland matches that Katie McCabe didn’t start although both herself and Denise O’Sullivan came on in the second-half.
And Mustaki wants to become an established part of the squad. She accepts that will probably mean a move abroad at some point if she wants to become a mainstay in the international team.
‘When I came back last season, my body was trying to catch up, but now I was able to last 90 minutes in an international game. I was delighted to do that, and it is down to all the effort I put in over the last year and a half. I am committed to Shels but to keep my place in the Ireland team, I do think I need to move abroad.’
Mustaki’s senior debut made her the 11th player from the Ireland under-19 side – that reached the 2014 European Championships semi-final – to win a full senior cap.
‘Obviously that was a super team at the time, with a lot of talented players. And I think the more success you have at a younger age, the more ambition that breeds. I think part of it must be having so much success at a young age, we all wanted to continue to have it.’