- New Zealand's Hannah Wilkinson suffered torn ACL for second time in October
- Motivation to play at France 2019 has given her fighting chance of being ready
- Says new coach Tom Sermanni has been in regular contact
When New Zealand striker Hannah Wilkinson lay on the ground clutching her knee during a cup game for Swedish club Vittsjo GIK back in October, she knew the diagnosis even before her injury was confirmed. It was the second time the 26-year-old Football Fern had encountered a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), having suffered the same fate in 2015 which meant a seven-month stint on the sidelines.
This time around, Wilkinson's rehabilitation is ahead of schedule and she admits having a FIFA Women's World Cup™ to work towards has been a huge motivation in aiding her recovery.
“It (the World Cup) was the first thing I thought of when it happened,” said Wilkinson. “Having torn my ACL before I knew what to expect, so I’ve just had this drive ever since - working and taking it day by day, my mantra was ‘every day counts’. What I have noticed from when it happened to now, is what the mind can do because if you are motivated, you truly can achieve anything.”
Wilkinson says her parents have been a major influence in keeping a positive mindset, revealing she wouldn’t be playing for New Zealand in the first place if it were not for them. She also praised the influence of new coach Tom Sermanni. The Scot, who took the reins of the Ferns in October, has been in regular contact with Wilkinson - frequently checking in to get updates on her recovery.
“Tom has been amazing. He’s reached out to me a lot during this period of recovery that I’m going through and it just goes to show he really cares," she said. “He’s brought back our culture, and that’s what we needed. He’s very good at forming relationships with his players, he’s really approachable and a really good coach. His contact has been reassuring and helped a lot.”
Developments in the women’s game means many players now receive the support they need to aid recovery from an injury such as the one Wilkinson has suffered. The Tennessee University graduate essentially has her own team, consisting of a personal trainer, physio, massage therapist and conditioning trainer, as well as a sports psychologist. She praised New Zealand Football for providing those key people, without which, she says, "I wouldn’t be here in this position".
“It shows you’re valued, because when you’re injured you feel devalued and your identity is cut, and you feel a bit lost,” Wilkinson said. “You have those negative doubts, but you can’t think about that too much. I look at what I’ve posted month on month on Instagram, and I look at the progress I’ve made. When you have that support, it makes you feel like you’re not forgotten, and that’s massive.”
With Wilkinson in with a fighting chance of making the World Cup, her attention is very much on the group that awaits her side at France 2019. It will be a case of meetings with two familiar faces for the Ferns, who prepare for Canada and the Netherlands at a second World Cup in a row. Cameroon complete their group, a team the Ferns faced at the 2012 Women's Olympic Football Tournament.
With New Zealand having "rediscovered their culture" Wilkinson is confident her side can take the winning mentality many of the players have from their clubs, and the experience some of them had playing in the US College system, and apply that to the national team this year.
“We represent the Fern and that is a huge honour. When you represent the Fern you represent a small country, but a special, special country, and that is where our culture comes into it. Our philosophy is ‘For the Fern’, which means playing for ourselves, for our team-mates, and for our country.
“That winning mentality never leaves the team, and that never leaves the players I play with," she continued. "Even in training you can see how competitive it gets, and that’s how it should be. We came extremely close to getting out of the group four years ago, which still frustrates me. It’s cool we get to face Canada and the Netherlands again because we know what to expect, which gives us good experience and gives us a chance.”