A week, we’re often told, is a long time in football so a year must be an eternity.
At the start of last season, Stephen O’Donnell was about to begin his first full campaign having returned to Finn Harps.
Although Harps lost their opening fixture 2-1 away to odds-on title favourites Limerick FC, shoots of optimism came through the surface. Mervue United were then defeated 4-3 in Ballybofey.
However, Harps’ second road trip of the season, at Athlone Town, was to prove a nightmare for O’Donnell.
He picked up a knee injury in the first half of what evolved into a 2-0 loss and was replaced by Ciaran Greene at the interval by Harps’ director of football Felix Healy.
“A few days later I was in Salthill watching the Irish Defences Forces playing against France,” O’Donnell says. “My phone rang and it was Felix with bad news. The MRI scan I had done showed I had a grade one cruciate tear.
“It was only really when I got home and sat down and started to think about things it hit home. There would be no football for the guts of 10 to 12 months. I was close one or two times to just giving up.
“Whenever you’re doing the laborious exercises moving your leg at the start of your rehabilitation it’s tough but it gets easier when you get to the gym and start moving again. It shows there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
O’Donnell played half an hour last Wednesday night in Harps’ pre-season scoreless draw against the Inishowen Oscar Traynor Traynor side at Maginn Park in Buncrana.
“Everything went grand for 10 months but I tweaked a hamstring last week and that put me back a week or two,” O’Donnell continues.
“I felt great playing but just as I went to cross the ball I felt the right hamstring twinge. It’s to be expected after so long out.”
O’Donnell is part of a strong squad assembled by manager Peter Hutton and hopes to be back in action come April, a month in which Wexford Youths, SD Galway and Waterford United all visit the Twin Towns.
“I’ll probably miss the first three or so games as I’ll have no competitive games under my belt,” O’Donnell adds.
“I’ll be nervous because of my knee but I’ll have nervous excitement about just getting back involved. It will be like starting all over again.
“We’ve a squad of 29 now to cover the Ulster Senior League and the first team and when you add a few of the U-19 players to that, then you’re looking at 33.
“That’s three players for every position. So if you’re not up for it one week then you will not be in the team the week after and competition for places is really important. We have a squad capable of challenging for promotion.”