Hearts striker reflects on 'heartbreaking' ACL tear and the problem plaguing Scotland's top flight
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That’s the reality Katie Rood now finds herself in after the Hearts striker was given the, in her own words, “heartbreaking” news earlier this week that the knee injury sustained in the recent loss to Celtic will see her need surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Not only does it prematurely end her season with her future in Edinburgh still up in the air, it also robs her of the opportunity to play at the Women’s World Cup later this year, which will be held across Australia and her native New Zealand. It was a goal which encouraged her to leave her roots and travel thousands of miles across the world to play in Europe in 2017, first with Juventus then a host of English clubs before arriving in the Scottish capital last summer.
A dream dashed, all because the ball took an unusual bounce off the Oriam surface in the dying minutes of a heavy 5-0 defeat.
"The season was ticking along all right and I was looking forward to these last few games, but it wasn’t meant to be,” the 30-year-old told the Evening News after watching her team-mates draw with Partick Thistle, Hearts’ first match since the injury diagnosis.
"It was about the 86th minute against Celtic and I just went to control the ball with my in-step. It’s taken a bit of a wicked bounce and my foot is just planted and the knee sort of goes the other way. It just crunched, basically.
"I knew right away [the extent]. Then after a couple of minutes I tried to convince myself that maybe it’s not so bad, that maybe it wasn’t as serious as I initially thought.
"I’ve had a few injuries before but not quite as intense as a knee ligament tear.
"There’s zero chance of making the World Cup now and that’s devastating. It’s the whole reason I’m overseas, to try and make the national team at the big events. To miss out... it’s heartbreaking.
"The day that I did my knee the [New Zealand] assistant coach was here watching the game and basically told me that it’s wide open. If I turn up and perform then I’d have every chance. It was in my hands, basically, to show them that I could do it.
"I’ve played at the Cup of Nations, which is a qualifying tournament for the World Cup and the Olympics. But no, never at a World Cup. Not a senior World Cup, anyway.”
Supportively for Rood but troubling for the women’s game is that she’s far from alone. On the very same day she sustained her injury, England star Leah Williamson suffered the same fate, while goalscorer Beth Mead is also a World Cup doubt for the Lionesses as she continues her rehab having torn her ligament earlier in the season.
Closer to home, the SWPL is seeing something of an epidemic at the moment. There’s over a dozen players currently out with ACL tears, including former Scotland internationals Jane Ross (Rangers), Jo Love (Glasgow City) and Rachael Boyle (Hibs).
Unfortunately it’s a fate women footballers have to deal with more than their male counterparts. Researchers have estimated that female players are up to six times more likely to sustain an ACL injury. There are several theories as to why, including women’s bodies being more quad-heavy, having smaller feet, inappropriate footwear and even the menstrual cycle playing a role, but scientific research around the phenomenon is still in its infancy.
“I think it’s multi-faceted. There’s not one problem or one solution,” said Rood, expressing her own views on the matter.
"I think if you look at the growth of the women’s game and how quickly our expectations and development has happened, we’ve gone from playing grassroots football to playing in professional environments. I think if you compare that to the men’s set-up, where they’re in these academies from a young age, their bodies are probably a bit more developed and ready to handle to reach those professional standards.
"It’s about understanding that we’ve only recently got to this level. The research can probably look into that as well as other factors playing a part.”
There’s also Rood’s immediate future to consider. She was signed on a one-year deal when she opted to join Eva Olid’s squad and her contract is set to expire when these last four games are over.
She’s played regularly this campaign but as the season has progressed she has often been asked to play out on the left-wing or used as a substitute. Hearts’ budget is expected to remain at least the same for the next campaign, but head coach Olid will likely look to bring in further firepower in attack for a team that’s had no trouble keeping clean sheets this campaign but hasn’t scored enough goals to seriously trouble the three teams at the top.
"It’s just about taking it day by day, it’s all I can do really,” said Rood. “I’m waiting for surgery now and when that happens it’s usually a 9-12 month recovery, though there can be hiccups along the way. So it’s just day by day.
"The contract is due to be up at the end of the season. We’re going to be having talks about my future in the next few weeks.”