After making a remarkable recovery from serious injury to sign with one of the biggest football clubs in the world, Football Ferns defender Meikayla Moore has a special motivation to play at the 2023 World Cup.
Meikayla Moore is lying motionless on the turf on a training ground in the northwest of France. She’s not sure what she’s done but knows it’s serious, and tears start streaming down her face.
The Football Ferns centre-half was on the eve of making her debut in the FIFA Women’s World Cup against the European champions Netherlands in Le Havre when her dream was shattered.
“I thought ‘Gregors’ [Sarah Gregorius] behind me had kicked me but she was miles away,” she says now, with a laugh. “I remember lying on the ground. I wasn’t in pain. I was just crying. I wasn’t sure why, but I knew it wasn’t good.”
The team doctor, Alyse Cameron, quickly came to her side and asked Moore to push her foot into her hand.
“I couldn’t put any pressure on her hand,” says Moore. “Alyse knew in that moment that I’d ruptured my Achilles.”
Moore, who hadn’t made the field in the 2015 FIFA World Cup in Canada, had her family travelling from New Zealand to see her finally make her World Cup debut. It was a heart-breaking moment.
“We were all devasted when Meikayla went down injured just before the World Cup,” says Football Ferns coach Tom Sermanni.
“This was a combination of the timing of the injury, the importance of Meikayla to the squad and her presence around the team on and off the field. It really hit everyone very hard.”
Fast-forward the clock 15 months and the trauma from the injury is fading into a memory for Moore. Things are looking up: the 24-year-old has recently signed for the Liverpool FC in the English championship.
“It’s a dream come true,” she says about playing at Anfield. “If someone was to tell 10-year-old Meikayla that she would go on to sign for a massive club like Liverpool, then she would be pretty excited by that. It is great to be in a really professional environment and I’m looking forward to growing here.”
Moore had been talking with Sermanni about her progression – “he’s been a huge supporter of my development” – with Moore knowing it was time to take on a new challenge in her football career.
Sermanni spoke with former Football Fern Emma Humphries, who’s now the assistant coach at Liverpool, and the chats between Moore and the club progressed from there.
“England is the place to be at the moment. Most of the best players in the world are playing here. That creates good competition and a really high standard. It’s a step up for me professionally,” Moore says.
While she’s looking forward, she’ll never forget the journey she has been on. After her Achilles injury she travelled home to begin her rehabilitation. Moore said the hardest part of her rehabilitation was dealing with the unknowns.
“To rupture an Achilles tendon at my age isn’t very common so I didn’t know a lot about it or what the process was,” she says.
Moore was on crutches for eight weeks, in a cast for six weeks, and then had to learn how to walk again with the help of her physiotherapist and doctor.
“My physio Tamsin Chittock [at HPSNZ in Christchurch] was hugely influential on my rehab and was my rock through it all,” she says.
It was a long road back to representative football, but she had a great team around her who helped reinforce the importance of getting the balance right and not returning too soon and risking further injury.
This helped Moore take it one day at a time as she worked towards the goal of making the Ferns squad for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“It was hard to hear that the Olympics were going to be postponed as it had been such a good target for me, but of course it was the right decision.”
She says the support of High Performance Sport NZ (HPSNZ) and ACC enabled her to focus on her rehabilitation.
“It means everything to have their support,” she says. “To have your whole life overseas and to be able to come home and get into your rehab properly is so important. Their support gave me huge peace of mind, I can’t thank them enough,” she says.
Sermanni says the focus and discipline Moore displayed during her rehab was outstanding.
“A torn Achilles is one of the toughest injuries to recover from,” he says. “But from day one she showed the dedication and patience needed to ensure her recovery was thorough.”
After starting again, Moore says it was an emotional moment when she made her first football appearances following the injury for club and country.
“I wear my heart on my sleeve, so I was hit with a truckload of emotions when I came back for my club [Duisburg] and also when we played at the Algarve Cup with the Ferns,” she says. “I shed a few tears when the anthem was playing in Portugal.”
And things have only improved since. Moore wants to cement herself in the Liverpool squad as they look to achieve promotion to the FA WSL in 2021.
“Everyone is fighting hard to win games and there’s a good group of players around me that will only help me as a player. I want to show what I‘m capable of with this team,” she says.
Although she’s been on the bench for most of Liverpool’s games so far, Moore relished playing a full 90 minutes this week in their Continental Cup 0-3 loss to Manchester City, who were fresh from their FA Cup final triumph.
Last month, Moore came off the bench to help Liverpool secure a memorable 3-1 win over Manchester United in the Continental Cup – describing the victory as “an awesome feeling”.
“The rivalry with Man United is well-known and has a lot of history. In the Continental Cup we come up against Man United, Man City and Everton, so they’re all massive games and it’s great to be able to test yourself against teams of that quality.”
Over a relatively short period of time, Moore has developed into an international player, Sermanni says.
“This is based predominantly on her outstanding performances. However, she is one of those unique players who has a presence on the football field. Someone who is a leader and inspires confidence on those around her,” the Football Ferns coach says.
Following the Olympics, the next goal for Moore will be to finally make her long-awaited World Cup debut in the 2023 event which will be hosted by New Zealand and Australia for the first time.
“You dream of playing at a World Cup as a footballer, but to have one on home soil will make it even more special. When it happens, it is going to be indescribable,” she says.
“For me personally, having not being able to set foot on the pitch in the last two World Cups, I am hoping it is third time lucky.”