Ryan Donaldson has opened up about the injury nightmare which blighted his first full season at Hartlepool United.
Former Newcastle United man Donaldson was out for much of last season after an ankle ligament problem needed TWO operations to fix.
The winger turned wing-back hopes those dark days are behind him as he learns his trade, out of position, but far from out of sorts, on the right-hand side.
“Last season was really tough. I was out for a long time,” said Donaldson, who has been a revelation for Pools this campaign.
“I wasn’t playing great before I was injured and came back too soon.
“There are bigger things in life but sometimes last season you wonder when it is all going to end with injuries and setbacks.
“I am a professional footballer and playing football is all I have known. This was the first injury of this nature I’d ever had and you start to question what you are when you are not doing the job you are paid to do at the end of the week.
“It was a very hard and frustrating period. I just wanted to show the fans what I can do and I feel that has happened this season.”
Having overcome his injury nightmare last season, Donaldson faced a whole new challenge - where would he fit into the Pools XI under manager Matthew Bates?
The 27-year-old admits he was a little concerned when the manager outlined his idea to play with no wingers in a variation of 3-5-2.
“I looked at the system we were playing at the start of the summer and from a selfish perspective wondered where I fitted in,” he said.
“But the manager has given me the chance at right wing-back and I feel like I am learning every training session, every game.
“I know I need to get better defensively - the manager has given me a few words when I’ve made a mistake - but the more I play the role I will improve.”
Donaldson’s impact in recent weeks has been pronounced.
The player had probably his best game in blue and white on Tuesday night as Pools drew a blank on home turf against Barrow.
“We were a bit disappointed with the result. We did enough to win the game, few people would argue with that,” said Donaldson.
“We had some really good periods but we did not create enough clear cut chances, just half ones. “We need to work the keeper more moving forward.”
Donaldson goes into the weekend clash with Solihull Moors still looking to open his account for Pools this season.
He came close to notching in midweek but, despite a jinking run in which he beat a whole host of visiting defenders, he could not apply the finish.
“I was just falling over. I think I was too tired at the end of the run,” said Donaldson. “I just tried to get some kind of shot away. It was one of them where you hope it hits a leg and flies in or you show some more composure and pass it in.
“For me all I could think was ‘shoot, quick’ and that was the end results.
“To be honest I was just waiting to get tackled.”
Donaldson has been a part of a Pools team that has remained unchanged for SIX games on the bounce.
In that time they’ve remained unbeaten and Donaldson believes while that continues to be the case, tiredness or thoughts of fatigue go out the window.
“We are winning games, staying unbeaten so any thoughts of tiredness go out the window,” he said.
“When you get on a winning run there is no better place to be.
“We wanted to win five in a row, we couldn’t do it.
“This is a great place to be at the minute.
“The gaffer has us playing some good stuff. Training is good, the spirit is good with the lads in the team and in the stands.”
Pools learned the hard way last season that playing in the fifth tier is very much a squad game.
While a number of players are on the sidelines or in the terraces who’d normally be considered regulars, Donaldson says the side will need those lads as autumn turns to winter.
“We all know the squad will be needed,” he said.
“I know if I have a couple of bad games there will be someone there to step in and take my shirt.
“This team is more than the 11 you see on the pitch.”