Irish Premiership: Newry City v Larne
Venue: Newry Showgrounds Date: Saturday, 28 October Kick-off: 17:30 BST
Coverage: Live stream on BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport website; live text and report on the BBC Sport website
It’s genuinely hard to explain just how good it felt to get back onto that pitch again on Saturday.
The team always comes first and it was gutting to lose to Loughgall – but the feeling of playing again after so long out injured was just fantastic.
And when I say ‘so long’, I mean 197 days to be precise. Yes, I was counting.
That is how long it was from when I ruptured my ankle ligaments in early April to me coming on as sub at Lakeview Park last weekend in the 69th minute. I was ahead of schedule, too, probably by almost two months.
I had a decision to make when I got the injury. I could either let it get me down and feel sorry for myself, or look on it as just another setback that I needed to recover from by getting my head down and working hard.
The comeback didn’t start too well because Loughgall scored literally as the manager told me to start warming up, but when I got on I had no fear at all that my ankle would be ok. I’ve been training hard and everything has been fine.
I was able to stretch my legs and get a few runs in behind their defence which was good, even though nothing really came of them. I had a half chance when the ball dropped to me at the edge of the box but I put it just half a yard wide. I am still a bit rusty, but we’re getting there.
‘You nearly feel the world is falling down around you’
I remember the tackle clearly. We were away to Carrick Rangers on the first day after the Irish Premiership split last season. Cameron Stewart made the challenge and it was a perfectly fair one, no issues at all.
He came across me and won the ball but it was just whatever way my foot was planted in the ground, I sort of went over on it and twisted it. I knew as soon as the pain came in that it was going to be a bad injury. I didn’t know what, exactly, but knew it was bad.
Then when I saw how long the MRI scan report was, that confirmed it. I had a complete rupture of my deltoid ligament on the inside of my ankle and a complete syndesmosis rupture and partial tear on an outside ligament on my ankle as well.
Initially, it’s tough, for sure. You nearly think the world is falling down around you. I was very lucky to have a really supportive family and really supportive friends, all credit to them. When you have a major injury like I had that takes away something that you are so used to doing, then those people closest to you become even more important.
The surgery was a big procedure. I’d a metal wire drilled through my tibia and fibula in my ankle, which stays in for life. I had a couple of dissolvable screws as well. It was complete rest for a while after the surgery, then gradually starting to build things up.
Getting an air cast boot on, getting off the crutches and then getting out of the air cast boot and on to a bike, into a pool and then gradually starting to walk normally again before jogging and sprinting. Thankfully I’m back now fully fit.
‘Playing full-time football is an ambition’
It’s been well documented that some of the full-time clubs in the Irish League have shown interest in me, and there have been a few offers on the table.
Playing full-time football is very much an ambition of mine, whether that is in the Irish League or in England. I know myself that I want to push on, but I made a conscious decision to stay at Newry for now.
I’ve been here since I was 16 and the club have been great with me. I also have an eye on the bigger picture and am in the third of a four-year Business and IT degree at Queen’s University.
Football is great at the time but you could get an injury that ends your career at any stage. If you do not have any qualifications it could be difficult to get a job so I am trying to keep myself available and open to all options.
Getting back into the Northern Ireland Under-21 squad is also something I’m determined to do. I’ve played in seven qualifiers previously and this is the final campaign I’ll be eligible for, so I have that in my sights.
‘If Loughgall can beat Larne, so can we’
I have a great relationship with Newry manager Gary Boyle, just as I did with Darren Mullen before him. He knows how determined I am to get back into the starting line-up but I know I need to be patient, and might have to build my match fitness with 20 minutes here and there.
That said, I’d love to start when Larne come to the Showgrounds on Saturday. There’ll be a real buzz around the club with the Irish Premiership champions coming to town.
There is no reason why we can’t go and get at them. Loughgall are a prime example, beating them 1-0 at their home ground. There is no reason why we can’t do the same in Newry after getting a draw against them at home last season.
There is no point in us holding back against Larne and just trying to play a damage limitation game, we may as well go for it.
In terms of our aims for the season, first of all you want to stay up – that’s our main goal every year. We have been in and out of the top flight over the past couple of years but I think this season, with the calibre of players we have, there is no reason why we can’t get towards the top six.