There is a real look of steel in the eyes of Football Fern Hannah Wilkinson as she contemplates what she wants to accomplish in 2019.

The 26-year-old Whangārei football star is in recovery mode after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her right leg in October last year playing for her Sweden-based side, Vittsjo GIK, three years after she tore her left ACL while playing in the United States.

Now, without a club contract and the pain of two major injuries in the last four years, Wilkinson still had her focus firmly set on being a key member of the Football Ferns squad to travel to France for this year's Fifa Women's World Cup, starting in June.

"Obviously it's not a matter of rushing it, but I'm looking really strong for how long it's been since the injury."

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The usual recovery time for an ACL tear is about 12 months. Wilkinson, who was set for a "ready for sport" test in Auckland this week, said she needed to be on the pitch as soon as April to be selected for the Ferns' tour of United States in May.

"You know the timeline, you hear it from the doctors and you know the risk but in the end, it's up to you.

"I said to myself, I'm just going to do everything I can to increase the chances of making it and not think about anything else."

Despite injury woes, Wilkinson plans on playing football for many years to come. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Despite injury woes, Wilkinson plans on playing football for many years to come. Photo / Michael Cunningham

When she first tore her ACL in 2015, Wilkinson had recovered in a short seven months, but experienced enormous pain and was lacking conditioning when it came to getting back on the field. This time around, she had flipped the script.

"I was ready for this to hurt again and it does every now and again, but it's just so different, the level of pain," Wilkinson said.

"Without pain, you're more comfortable doing things like getting stronger, so I've pushed myself that little bit more because I know I can."

The 87-cap New Zealand international's focus had centred around a regimented daily schedule of gym and fitness work to move closer to her goal of becoming fit, which had made her stronger than ever.

"I don't have time for setbacks, I don't have time to pull a muscle so I have been so rigid in my recovery and if anything is tight I will not do it, that's the kind of the life I'm living right now.

"The football stuff, I've played it for years, I know how to do it, but what we can do right now is conditioning, then once I hit training, I'll be ready to go."

Like any sportsperson with an injury, time in recovery comes with some dark days.

Currently staying in Auckland, Wilkinson had been coaching with football club Hibiscus Coast, which could sometimes be its own form of torment.

"I'm looking at these kids playing and I just want to play so bad and I question it all, why the hell did this happen, why did it happen again?

"But you can't get stuck in that because it's unhealthy. If you can let it out, just push it aside and accept that it's happened, you can keep moving forward."

A silver lining in her recovery journey had been spending time on home shores.

Despite spending her weekdays in Auckland, Wilkinson travels home to Whangārei on the weekends to bask in the sun she so often missed living in Sweden.

However, her time in Scandinavia may now have finished sooner than expected.

Wilkinson's club, Vittsjo GIK, had decided not to renew her contract following the injury and would wait until she made it through recovery to make a decision.

In Wilkinson's time at Vittsjo GIK, the club had been ravaged by injury, at one stage being reduced to the bare 11due to players being unavailable.

During that time, Wilkinson had been essential to the club avoiding relegation from Sweden's highest women's football division, Damallsvenskan.

Wilkinson was disappointed to see her future at the club unconfirmed, but said she was more than ready to prove herself fit and prepared for the season ahead.

"I said to myself, "If you're not sure if I'll be good when I come back, well, watch me"."

Wilkinson knew the more work she put in now to recover, the better her chances would be of attracting club offers in Europe, which could be hard considering her injury history.

"It'll be pretty tough to find a team if you've been out injured for a while and if it means I have to go out and trial somewhere, so be it."

After attending two World Cups, Wilkinson's hunger to add another to her belt hadn't diminished.

Despite the pain and struggle she has had to endure, Wilkinson only had three words for the trials and tribulations yet to come her way.

"Bring it on."