CHRIS McCann admits he can see the light at the end of the tunnel after making his reserve team comeback on Tuesday night.
Cruel luck with knee injuries and illness have restricted the 23-year-old to just 100 minutes of competitive action since September 2009.
But a 37-minute run-out at Turf Moor against Oldham’s second string on Tuesday night was the first step to a first team return.
It’s been a long road back, and he said: “I remember sitting in the stand watching the game against Nottingham Forest in August knowing that I had to have the operation straight after that.
“Although you want your team to win, it was just horrible to watch them playing without you in the team.
“After the op I was away for three weeks, so I was sat at home on my own. There’s not a lot you can do. You’ve just got to keep your mind straight. Obviously I had a good bunch of lads in the changing room who were encouraging me every day, and my friends and my family were the same as well. You need a good bit of support around you to get you through those days.”
He has had to be strong mentally, and he added: “You can’t really feel sorry for yourself and sit around.
“If you’re going to do that you’re making yourself feel more and more down. You’ve got to stay positive and that’s what I’ve tried to do.
“Obviously I’ve had my days when I’ve been fed up, but you’ve just got to keep yourself as happy as you possibly can.
“My friends and family, and a good bunch of lads are there to help. If you’re ever feeling down you know you can go and chat to someone like that and they’ll pick you up.
“It’s all behind me and I’m looking forward to the future now and cracking on.”
The future at the moment is another reserve game at home to Morecambe on Tuesday night: “I still think I need a couple more (reserve) games yet for my fitness. I think I’m naturally fit anyway so hopefully that will come.
“There’s another game next week so I’ll play in that again and see how I feel from there.
“I just want to come back and play a couple of reserve games and see how I feel.
“My fitness will probably be the biggest factor, trying to get up to speed. I need to sharpen up a little bit but hopefully that will come over the next couple of training sessions and doing a little bit extra on the field.
“There’s no substitute for games, so next week’s going to be another one that I need to play in and try to build on what I did on Tuesday night.”
And he was pleased with his workout against the Latics, coming on just after the break: “I felt it after 40 minutes running around, but it’s just good to be back.
“I was trying to feel my way back into the game. The last thing I wanted to do was go hell for leather and pull up with something else - a different injury or something like that.
“But I needed to go into a couple of tackles for my own peace of mind, and obviously I need to be tackled a couple of times as well to make me feel more and more confident, but that will come the more I play.
“Hopefully I’ll just roll on to next week and it’s more of the same.
“I don’t think I should be too much longer before I can top my fitness up and come back in, even if it’s only for a couple of minutes here or there in a game, I’ll benefit from that.”