Aston Villa’s rise to the top of the FA Women’s Championship has been a phenomenal story for all involved but it has perhaps been most significant for Kerri Welsh, writes Bradley West.
Having ruptured her cruciate ligament reconstructions on three occasions, two on her right leg and one on her left, Welsh has had to deal with the very roughest of fates a sportswoman could face.
But having nearly packed up the game for good in the face of her third setback Welsh, determined to go out on her own terms, pushed herself to return one more time.
It was a decision that paid off and Welsh, after making her comeback in a pre-season friendly with Coventry United in August 2018, was rewarded with the club captaincy by head coach Gemma Davies.
And now, the 27-year-old is playing her best in years and leading a team enjoying an unbelievable run, quite the incredible story.
“If I’m honest, after the second injury I said if I was ever to do it again then I would be hanging my boots up, that would be it,” Welsh said.
“But then, as soon as I did it again there was no question I’d be trying to get back to play again for Villa.
“Ultimately, I returned to the pitch after the third time because I wanted to be in control over how my career ended.
“I hadn’t even kicked a ball and Gemma [Davies] made me club captain. She’s given me the chance to get back on the pitch and play consistent minutes as I did last season.
“I’m in a really fortunate position being club captain. I can only thank Gemma for the opportunity and try to repay her.
“I don’t take it for granted the fact I’m back playing, I treat every game and training session as if it’s my last, you’ve got to appreciate your time on the pitch.
“I think I’m fitter than I’ve ever been and it’s the most consistent I’ve been playing and playing well since when I got my first knee injury.”
Injury has been a constant feature in the career of Welsh, the first coming seven years ago when at Everton and then twice more in the space of two years at Villa, resulting in a combined time of almost three years spent on the sidelines.
But, despite the physical realities of the surgery and rehabilitation that she has had to go through, it is the mental struggles that have been the biggest barrier to Welsh’s recovery.
She added: “The physical side of the rehab is easy, it’s the mental side which is the hard part and I don’t think I’m totally over it – I don’t have full confidence in going into challenges.
“There’s still that fear of getting injured again and what that would look like for me.
“Ultimately, the things you take for granted in terms of being a footballer, being able to run, being around your team on a regular basis, gamedays, those are the things I don’t take for granted anymore because they can be taken away in an instant.
“You play a team sport because you enjoy being around other people, some at the club are people I consider friends for life, and when you’re taken away from that environment, you’re not a player anymore.
“You have to take a step away and detach yourself and that’s difficult. Doing work on my own in the gym with my physio while my teammates were prepping for a gameday was very tough.
“Just to stay involved I had to turn up and be the team’s number one fan, I certainly had my low times at home but I’ve come through the other side of that.”
But, would a fourth injury definitely spell the end now?
Welsh added: “100 per cent this time, if it was to happen again, I wouldn’t be coming back from my fourth one.”