Reece James is looking forward to drawing a line under 12 months of hurt when he pulls on a Wigan Athletic shirt again this afternoon.
The 23-year-old has endured a frustrating year on the sidelines since damaging his ankle in the 3-1 win over Chesterfield on January 16, 2016 – ironically, after scoring his only goal for the club.
Several setbacks – and a couple of operations – later, James has finally worked his way back to fitness, and a reserve-team run-out against Barnsley.
And he is champing at the bit to make up for lost time after becoming the forgotten man of the DW Stadium.
“I started training properly last week so I’ve had five or six sessions now,” James told the Evening Post.
“I’m going to be involved in the game on Tuesday, and hopefully I’ll get through at least 45 minutes under my belt. If I can through that, it will be another massive step for me.
“It’s the first time I’ve been involved in any game since Macclesfield in pre-season, when I tried but it wasn’t right.
“The last time I was involved in a competitive game was Chesterfield last January.
“It goes without saying there’ll be plenty of cobwebs, and it’ll take me a bit of time to get used to it. But I can’t wait.”
James admits the last 53 weeks have been sheer hell as he’s been unable to get out on the grass with his colleagues.
“It’s been frustrating, especially because I’ve thought I was over it a few times, only to have another little setback,” the ex-Manchester United man acknowledged.
“But these things happen in football, it’s how you get over them that counts.
“I’m still feeling the odd little twinge, but that’s part and parcel of getting used to moving the ankle again.
“I spent probably the best part of six months in a protective boot, so my ankle’s not moved a lot in that time.
“I’ve had a few injections and a couple of operations, a lot of work on it, so it’s bound to be a bit stiff and still not fully there movement-wise.
“I am getting there though – the more training I do outside, the more strength is coming back – and hopefully I’ll be back to normal soon.”
Being a former United junior, cynics would be forgiven for drawing a line between James making his return from injury...five days before Sunday’s big FA Cup fourth-round tie at Old Trafford!
“It’s no coincidence at all – I’m trying to make the weekend,” James laughed. “Sadly, on a serious note, there’s not much chance of that.
“If I can play a few reserve games and come through unscathed, hopefully I can try and push to get near the first team again.
“I just need as many minutes under my belt, that’s the final part of my rehab, getting the last bit of strength back, experiencing game situations like full-on tackles and getting up and down the pitch.”