Midfielder John O’Sullivan got a vital 80 minutes under his belt in the Reserve League Cup game against Fleetwood on Wednesday afternoon as he continues his return following a five-month spell on the sidelines due to a frustrating series of injury setbacks.
Coupled with appearances from the bench in the Fleetwood Checkatrade Trophy and Yeovil league games over the course of the last week, his midweek run-out has made the future look much brighter as he targets full fitness and involvement within the next few weeks.
“It’s good that I’m back because it’s been a long time,” he said. “Those who follow my Twitter account will have seen that I’ve been counting it down because I haven’t played since the Exeter play-off games.
“It’s been a long, hard road and anyone who has been around the training ground will know how hard I’ve worked. I’ve been in when the other players have been off, doing stuff with Dolly and Lee Fearn, and it’s been stressful for me at times.
“I’ve had to watch the games from the side lines through it all when I knew I could help the team, but thankfully I’m involved again now. I had 80 minutes in the reserve game to help with my sharpness because I still have a programme to follow. I’m working my way up and obviously I’m just happy to be back and involved with the team.”
Digging more into the situation surrounding the injury, he explained: “If you remember Hartlepool last season I came off because I’ve had problems with my hip flexor and groin for a long time now. Little tweaks and things have been there, and when I went down the second time during one of our pre-season training sessions it just didn’t feel right.
“I felt something go, so Dolly sent for me another scan and we then spent four weeks trying to get over that. I then had another setback but, like I say, I’ve just tried to get on with it and stay positive.”
One of the biggest challenges faced by any player going through a long-term rehabilitation process is to overcome the mental stresses they face, particularly once the season hits full flow and the games come thick and fast.
“Being out has hurt, especially with the way I finished last season,” he admitted. “I felt I’d found a home here and I was settled and starting to show people what I was capable of. I came back for the first few weeks of pre-season and I felt as good as I could be then bang, there you go, it was another setback.
“That’s been my career so far because it’s been setback after setback, but I’ve always stayed positive. That’s because I know the player I can be and the player I want to be. I just need the platform now and hopefully if everything stays well fitness wise I can show the fans and everyone else that I can be what I want to be.
“The mental challenges have definitely been the hardest part. My girlfriend will tell you how tough it’s been for us at home every week. While everyone has been away for a game I’ve been with her - and I’ve been doing her head in!
“Now that I’m able to be involved again I’m just going to put everything I can not only into being involved, but I also want to be a main player in this team. I know I can be that. Obviously we’ve lost Nicky [Adams] now and that’s been a big hit to all the lads. You could see that on Twitter. Every single person tweeted about him.
“He’s been there for me through my whole injury and I’ll be the same to him, but there’s a spot there for somebody to step in to. It’s happened just at the time I’m coming back, so I’m going to do everything I can to get in there and fill those big shoes.”
As for hen he feels he could be knocking on the door and asking for a starting place, he said: “Everyone has three months of the season on me, so I am playing catch-up. I’m going into games when I come on now with people around me who have had full pre-seasons and 15 or 20 games.
“I’ve had 80 minutes in a reserve game and 20 minutes in the Checkatrade, so it will take time to get back into it properly. I’m not saying I can’t have an impact now, but it will take time. If I stick to the programme I’ve been given I should be there in the next few weeks.
“Being perfectly honest, I want to start games now, but I know, as a professional, that isn’t going to happen. I do need to be careful, for medical reasons but, at the same time, I want to be playing. I feel I wouldn’t look out of place if I was starting but I won’t know I’m properly ready until I keep coming on and playing a part.”
And the part he played in making last season’s play-off campaign so exciting is one of the incentives he’s used through some of the darker periods he’s been through in recent months.
“Those games were unreal, and it actually went from the best to the worst moment of my life in the space of ten minutes,” he commented. “It’s all ‘what ifs’ with how it could have gone, but I’ve used it as a big driving point because I had so many good feelings in the play-offs, with scoring in both games, and I want it again.
“All I want is to be playing. Even last season, people know how angry I was when I didn’t start the play-off games. I was pleased with my performance in those games when I came on and I got two goals in the 60 minutes I played. I have that determination and I know the gaffer and his staff also have that belief in me. They gave me the 18-month contract and it’s time for me to pay them back now with as many good performances as I can.
“The goal I scored in the away game came because Colin West had been telling me all week just to run into the box. He said it over and over and he kept working with me on it. I did it in the game and I got the reward for it. I keep repeating myself, but I know I can score goals and I know I can have an impact – I just need to show it now.”
So how much benefit did he gain from the reserve game against Fleetwood?
“I was very stiff as the game went on, but I got loosened off in the second half and I felt ok, he told us. “I feel fit and strong, which is good. Having said that, the performance of the whole team wasn’t good, and the result shows that.
“There were a lot of young lads in there, and a few trial players, and they need to learn, but that includes the older lads who didn’t perform either. That’s football and we’re all hurting, but it’s important that we move onto the next game.
“What we have to face is that the result isn’t acceptable at any standard. Even for me, who hasn’t played for five months, I can’t accept a result and performance like that. There’s nothing we can do other than make sure we put it to bed next time.
“The gaffer wasn’t happy, but rightly so. He’s the manager of this club and any result from any level reflects on him. He wants the whole club to be winners, and that’s from the younger lads all the way up to the first team.
“We want that as well, and it’s probably the older players who have let the young lads down today. There are no excuses, but there were a few factors involved with players coming back, trial players and things like that. Like I say we just have to put it right by doing things properly as we move on.”
His final word was for team mate Nicky Adams, who revealed earlier this week that he has picked up an injury which could see him ruled out for a prolonged period of time.
“We’re all gutted and feeling it for him,” he said. “When it happened to me I had every person in the team either ringing me or texting me to say how upset they were for me. That’s what we have in the dressing room.
“We don’t have a massive squad, but it’s a squad full of friends and people who want each other to do well. We’ll all be there for him. Nobody in this team wants to get promoted more than Nicky.
“If you look at his record, he does it, and we want to do it for him. It’s not just his football, it’s the way he is around the place. I know he’ll still be in the dressing room for every game because that’s just the kind of lad he is. He’s a good person and not just a good footballer.”
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