JAMES Poole has this week led the way in Hartlepool United’s gruelling pre-season fitness tests – and now the striker admits he is ready to emerge from a “nightmare” six months.
The 22-year-old, who jets out to Holland with the rest of the Pools squad today, has been one of the front runners in each of the intensive workouts laid on by the fitness experts from Durham University.
And that is a far cry from the injury-plagued first half of 2012 which Poole was made to endure.
After scoring the winning goal at Oldham Athletic on Boxing Day, the former Manchester City trainee didn’t kick another competitive ball until March.
A mystery hamstring injury, later diagnosed as a compressed nerve in his back, was the problem, and it continued to haunt Poole until the season’s end.
Now, though, after an extended summer, the lightening-quick forward insists he is free of the mental doubt which had tormented him during each of his failed comeback bids.
“It’s been a long summer but the extended break gave me that time to rest my body and my mind really,” he told SportMail today.
“It’s been a very hard six months for me and it was a bit of a nightmare.
“So I was glad of the break for that chance to rest and make sure my body was sorted.
“I’m feeling confident in my body now and that’s the most important thing.
“Last season I was waking up every single day thinking ‘is today the day I’m fit and going to be able to train?’.
“I’ve had niggles like that before and they just clear up, but this just wouldn’t get better.
“I felt good some mornings and would try to do some work, but I just knew in the back of my mind the problem was still there.
“Having that doubt in your mind is probably worse than the injury itself because you’re always holding yourself back.”
And Poole admits his lingering fitness woes proved something of a conundrum for the medical staff and new manager Neale Cooper.
“I was more of a problem than anything else,” he said.
“I probably came back too early because I was desperate, but I soon realised I wasn’t doing myself or the team justice.
“But I feel fitter and better, physically and mentally, than I have done for a long time and I just can’t wait to get started.”
And Poole has enjoyed the punishing pre-season schedule, which has included tossing tyres and tugging sleighs.
“It’s been so physically and mentally challenging this year that it brings you together as a group and you help each other through,” he went on.
“The variety is good because running alone can get boring.
“But we’re all in good shape and personally I feel fantastic.
“We’re all looking forward to getting away to Holland now and getting some game time.”