CARLOS Cuellar says he is fit, raring to go and awaiting the first-team call from Martin O’Neill after putting his hamstring woes behind him.
The former Aston Villa centre-half has been an automatic first-team choice since arriving on a Bosman free transfer last summer, but was sidelined in the New Year after suffering a hamstring tear in Sunderland’s FA Cup draw with Bolton Wanderers.
And since returning to full training, he has had to be patient for a first-team recall with Titus Bramble now up to full match fitness and John O’Shea having returned from his own injuries.
Cuellar said: “I understand the manager has a tough decision to make when it comes to centre-halves because it is the one area of the squad where he has plenty of options, and I have no problem with that.
“As well as John and Titus and myself, there is also Kader Mangane and Matt Kilgallon, but I don’t mind the competition for places. I am just glad to be back.
“I am feeling good, feeling fit and for the last few games I have been happy just to be back on the bench and ready to be called on if needed.
“It is good to be available and ready to help because I would much rather be dropped because of form rather than injury.
“At least if you are not in the team because the manager might think someone is better than you at that moment in time, you have the chance to prove that you should be in the team – you can train better and play better, and that gives you the incentive to get back in.
“But when you are injured, there’s nothing you can do.
“You can’t train or play, and for me, I find that hard.
The 31-year-old, who has played 19 games this season and scored one goal – in the 3-1 win over Fulham at Craven Cottage – puts his injury down to the wear and tear of a Premier League season and in particular the packed Christmas programme.
“The injury came about I think simply because I had played some pretty hard and intense games during a relatively short period of time,” he said.
“Normally it wouldn’t be a problem but the Southampton match and Man City, Liverpool and Spurs were really hard games and then going to Bolton away proved too much.
“Every body has a limit and for me, that proved to be it.
“I had a heavy workload at the time because John O’Shea was injured and Titus Bramble were injured at similar times and I had to play on through it and be ready to play every single game because we didn’t have the biggest squad.
“I tried to play every game but at one point the body said: “Enough!”
Cuellar has been on the bench for the last three games, having made a swift recovery and credits the Black Cats’ recent sunshine break with helping hasten his return.
He said: “It was a normal hamstring injury and so the recovery was fairly standard, but going to Dubai definitely helped me.
“Being there allowed me to improve more quickly because I could do more and different exercises in the warm conditions.
“I did a special programme to improve the recuperation while we were out there, and I was grateful for that.
“Now I’m just looking forward to playing again.”