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INTERVIEW: When I woke up my knee was massive

Defender Joel Senior on battling back from an ACL injury

12 December 2022


INTERVIEW: When I woke up my knee was massive

Defender Joel Senior on battling back from an ACL injury

12 December 2022

Defender Joel Senior moved to Brunton Park from Altrincham during the last winter window and he settled quickly, putting in some strong performances on the right hand side of the defence.

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But disaster struck in just his fifth appearance when he had to leave the field with still 15 minutes of the first half to play of our away game at Salford.

A heavy challenge had left the 23-year-old clutching his knee, and he quickly confirmed to the bench that something was wrong, and he was subsequently replaced.

The disappointment of the setback to his step up to life in league football was brushed aside as he set off on the road to recovery and now, some ten months later, he has two reserve team outings under his belt and, it has to be said, a smile back on his face.

“It feels amazing to be back on the pitch,” he told us. “Even to be back training and back with the boys is great, but to get some match minutes under my belt has been amazing.

“During my first game [Blackpool a fortnight ago] I was a bit tentative and nervous because you aren’t sure how your body is going to react after so long out. I’m just excited to be back now after working so hard. I feel fit and good in my body so I’m just buzzing to be back.”

As with any long-term or serious injury there’s bound to be a sense of trepidation as the steps to recovery are ticked off, with the biggest test the return to no holds barred football.

“When I first started training properly I was nervous and I was always checking with Ross [club physio] if I was ok to do things,” he admitted.


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“It’s more of a mental thing than a physical thing. All of the medical people know that my knee can do it and Ross wouldn’t let me do it if it couldn’t, but it’s just in my head.

“It’s doing things you haven’t done for nine or ten months so it’s about building confidence with it. Every day you end up doing something different and you become more confident with it, and it feels better every time you do it. It’s tough at first but once you’ve cracked on you just forget about it.”

Rewinding to the moment the challenge came in back the beginning of February, he told us: “When it first happened I was in tears on the pitch at Salford.

“I remember feeling a pop, and I’ve never really been injured before, so I didn’t know what it was. I kept feeling my knee buckle and I thought I was in trouble, then the second time I went down I knew I was in a bad way.

“When I woke up the morning after the game my knee was massive and I knew it could be a bad one.

“It wasn’t long after I’d signed, and I was starting to make an impression even though we weren’t doing too well at the time. I was just settling in and I got an injury like that which set me back ten months, so it’s really hard to take at the time.

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“Everyone at the club has been brilliant with me, especially Ross, but all of the staff, the new manager and all of the lads have been great. That’s made it a lot easier than I thought it would be at the time, and it’s gone a lot quicker than I ever thought it would.

“Each day feels slow, but over a period of time it feels quick. It’s a weird one, at the time it was really tough to take but injuries are part and parcel of the game, and you just have to get through it and make sure you come back stronger.”

But when was it confirmed that the ACL had been ruptured?

“I found that out two days after the game,” he explained. “I had my scan on the Wednesday morning then came in on the Thursday and spoke to Ross, which was when he told me.

“I was in tears again and I just couldn’t believe it. I spoke to my family and it was a hard one to take, but as soon as you hear the news and process it, you’ve just got to start thinking about what you can do to make yourself better than you were before it happens.

“It’s taken nine or ten months of hard work but I feel like I’ve got there now. When I first spoke to the surgeon he said it could be anything from nine to twelve months.

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“I played my first game nine months after my surgery and it was actually less than nine months after my operation. I think it’s just down to hard work because I’ve done loads with Ross and I’ve just knuckled down and got on with it.

“I’ve done anything extra that I could and that’s why I’m back and fit now. Throughout the whole thing I’ve just wanted to do everything I can to make sure I’m as good an athlete as I can be when I’m back.

“I feel like there’s nothing better I could have done other than working in the gym because it’s only going to make me better when I’m back on the pitch. I’ve just wanted to work as hard as I can so I could come back in good shape, and I feel like I have.”

Football can be a lonely place for the injured, with mental strength and a good support network equally as important as a strict physical regime.

“There are plenty of dark days, especially at the start, because it takes six or seven months before you can go back on the grass,” he confirmed. “I spoke to Ross at one point and just said I felt like I needed a holiday and a bit of time away, because it’s tough being in the gym on your own.

“At the start we didn’t really have any other injuries, so it was difficult. Dev and Josh Dixon were there with me early on and they really helped me through. We would do sessions together and it makes such a big difference.

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“I think if you are struggling when you come in here it just makes you feel better. Ross and the lads having a bit of banter does really help. When I first got injured Brennan and Josh weren’t injured, but both had done their ACL before, so they were always asking how it was feeling.

“It was good to be able to speak to them and know that the things I was feeling in my knee were normal, it just gives you that bit of reassurance that it’s going as it should.”

Adding to the complicated situation was the fact that new manager Paul Simpson was in the hotseat just days after he’d been under the surgeon’s knife.

“It’s tough to be injured when a new manager comes in because you want to impress him,” he told us. “When I first came back from my operation I knew I couldn’t do anything to help the boys or the manager on the pitch, so it was just a case of showing him that I was working as hard as I could to get myself back out there.

“We’ve had some good conversations and he’s been great for the club. You do wonder if he likes you as a player and things like that, but I was just focused on getting myself fit more than anything.

“I’ve spoken to the gaffer a bit in the last few weeks and he’s just told me to keep focusing on getting fit and training well. It’s been important to get minutes under my belt in the games I’ve had so far.

“The boys are doing so well at the minute and I’ve been out for so long that it’s just about me getting fit so I can try to get myself back in the team.”

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Going back to the subject of his support network, he said: “I don’t think I’ve been an awful patient for my family but there have been days where I just haven’t wanted to talk about it.

“If they ask how the football was I’ve just been saying I was just in the gym again, so sometimes I get a bit frustrated with them asking. They’ve been good to me all the way through and once I get annoyed at them they know just to leave me to it.

“In the early days I was just in bed because I couldn’t move my knee and they were a massive help then. I can imagine I was a bit of a pain for the first few months, but since I started walking properly and feeling more like myself I’ve been a bit better to live with!”

On to his recent appearances and the light at the end of the tunnel of actual match time, he confirmed that it had done his confidence no harm at all to be involved against both Blackpool and Bransty Rangers.

“The game against Blackpool was important,” he confirmed. “I felt a bit tentative in the first ten minutes but once I got into the game I felt good within myself and just forgot about it.

“It felt amazing to be back out there and get 45 minutes under my belt. I didn’t feel too tired and I felt like I could have played on, but there was no point in risking another injury after being out for so long. I didn’t feel too stiff the next day either, which was a bonus!

“I was definitely stiff after playing 80 minutes on a heavy pitch at Penrith on Tuesday though. When I was in the car driving home I could feel my legs getting tight, but I was just so happy to have got through that amount of minutes.

“It wasn’t like a first team game, but I still felt like it was really beneficial for me to get up and down the line and get a good chunk of minutes in.

“I did get one heavy tackle and it was the first big tackle I’ve been involved in since the injury. As soon as it happened I felt nothing and I knew I was fine, and my knee was fine, which was really positive.

“It’s a big confidence boost and something else to get over, so it was good that it happened because now I know it’s something else my knee can deal with.

“The next few weeks are just about me continuing to work hard to get myself fit to work my way back into the team and the manager’s plans. That’s all I can ask for and, in the meantime, I hope the boys keep doing well. I just want to be involved in that.

“Every member of staff and every one of the boys have been so supportive of me and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of lads to help me through it. I get along with everyone and we’re such a close-knit group which I think is showing on the pitch with us doing so well and being up there in the table.”

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