WHEN Ciaran Clarke came on as a substitute against Portadown at the end of March little did he think it would be his last appearance for over six months.
The young winger made his comeback in the dramatic victory over Linfield last week having finally overcome the hip injury which plagued him for so long last season.
And he is determined to make up for lost time.
“I’m glad to be back, especially when the teams started off so well,” the 19-year-old told Times Sport.
“It’s a great squad to be part of. Now I just need to get the head down and concentrate on getting my fitness levels up as I missed pre-season.
“I had tore cartilage in my hip which was causing me pain throughout last season. I didn’t find out until I had a MRI scan. The operation which I had involved going into my hip and repairing the damaged cartilage. The operation itself was called ‘Hip Arthroscopy’ which I had to go to Cambridge for.
“I worked hard with Alan Millar our club physio who guided me step by step though the rehab program. Alan had researched everything to do with the injury which he was able to tell me how I was progressing.
“Some of the rehab work which I had to do on my own in the gym was very boring but it had to be done. Once I started getting out on the pitch I knew I was progressing which I found it easier to do. I’d like to thank Alan and the club for doing everything they could to get back to full fitness.”
Like most players Ciaran admits he’s not the best spectator, but he did have his good friend Shane Jennings for company in rehab, as he too is recovering from a long term injury.
“It did help having him around as there were parts of my rehab that Shane could do to which helped drive us on,” explained Ciaran. “The runs which we had to do for fitness were very competitive as both of us didn’t want to lose.
“It was very hard sitting on the sidelines watching games though. I’m not the best spectator! I find it hard to watch games and training when I know that I should be out playing.
“This was the first time that I have ever experienced a long term injury and I hope it’s the last as it’s not a nice experience.”
The Ballycastle man though got a nice surprise last week when he was called into the squad for the live Sky game against the Blues and he almost capped off his comeback in spectacular fashion.
“I didn’t expect to be in the squad on Monday night so it was a bit of a surprise to me,” he said. “It was a nice feeling coming on in such a big match, in front of large crowd and then the atmosphere all night and especially after the winning goal capped off a great come back for me.
“It would have been great to have scored the goal. I thought it was in the second it left my boot, with a bit of luck it would have! As I say it would have been nice if it did go in but the result was more important at the end of the day.
“Everyone was buzzing, after such a great finish to the game. It always takes a super performance to beat Linfield.
“Hopefully we can keep it going now, we just need to take one game at a time. But I feel we should fear no one in the league as we are capable of beating anyone as we showed against Linfield.”
Boss Oran Kearney is delighted to have Clarke back in the reckoning again.
“It’s been a tough few months for Ciaran but he has worked so hard to get back ahead of schedule,” said Kearney.
Meanwhile, the Bannsiders take on Institute tonight (Tuesday) in the final of the North West Senior Cup. The action at The Showgrounds gets underway at 7.45pm.
*We have full reaction to last week’s dramatic win over Linfield and Saturday’s draw with Crusaders P53-55.