Letting the dust settle and normality filter back into our lives was important after the soul destroying loss at Wembley just a few months ago. Since then we’ve had time to digest, reflect and somewhat forget; as World Cup fever was waiting just around the corner to distract our minds from the ‘what could have been season’.
There is no denying just how tough it was to take after losing the playoff final, but what was most frustrating was we dominated the game for large spells, especially in the second half against a squad that was reportedly earning more than Athletico Madrid! Whether or not that was true, we were the team wanting to win and take the game to QPR. At the start of the season we were the team that were odds on at the bookies to have another campaign falling shy of the playoffs (a huge contrast to QPRs expectations) and we were simply the better team over the 46 championship matches. Unfortunately football is a cruel game where luck plays a huge part and it’s fair to say it just wasn’t with us at Wembley.
Although once again I played no part through my horrendous injury, going onto the pitch to console each devastated player at the final whistle, I felt, and more importantly shared their pain, it really did hit me that hard! Throughout the season the boys were a pleasure to watch. The football was exciting and entertaining, each player rose to any challenge that they faced and deserved to take this club back to the Premiership where it belongs.
With the new season upon us, do we look back and reflect on what could have been last season or focus on imagining what the future will hold?
For me, both are hugely important and using that heartache and disappointment of last seasons finale should help us learn, grow and become stronger as an outfit for the season ahead of us! We should not forget how it felt to miss out on a return the the Premiership, we should not suppress the agony and pain we shared but instead use it as tool to create the mental strength, determination and desire to bounce back. Failure only occurs when you’re unable to learn and rectify your objective of success, the squad will be doing exactly that this season.
The club have been extremely busy throughout the summer making sure players were offered new deals at Derby County and most have already put pen to paper to commit their long term futures here. This signalled the importance of keeping the squad together and rightfully so. The lads performed admirably last season and deserved any rewards given to them. Continuity has been key to building this squad over the last five years and continuing with the same group (with a few additions of course) has been the aim once again. A close knit squad and team should never be overlooked. It hasn’t happened over night but can vanish quickly if all efforts aren’t used to convince the players that Derby County is still the club to be part of.
Looking at the Championship this season reminds me just how hard this division is as once again. The teams that were either promoted or relegated last season look strong and choosing three to get promoted is a tough ask, I certainly wouldn’t like to pick them. After last seasons performances we are in the new territory of being one of the favourites for promotion with the bookies before a ball has been kicked which leaves us having to deal with the pressure of expectation. We had no real pressure last season with the change of management, although top 6 was the aim at the start, after we were in our rhythm that never looked in doubt. Internally it felt like we were riding a wave, every result and performance was enjoyed and savoured and it was a case of seeing where our impressive form would take us, this year will be different. Staff, management, owners, players and fans are expecting us to continue with this momentum and that in turn creates a whole different season ahead of us. Can we cope? Of course but for the first time we need to quickly learn the skills that will keep us mentally prepared for those pressures in front of us. I couldn’t choose two sides that will get the automatic spots this season but I do know they need to be extremely strong sides to finish above us.
It’s been a long time since I last wrote about my rehabilitation and it fills me with enormous pride and pleasure to say that recently I returned to do some light training sessions with the under 21s! This is by no means the end, I’ll still have numerous hurdles before I reach my goal of returning to the first team fold but to say this is a monumental moment for me personally is an understatement!
I’ve always claimed I would return and although this belief has stayed with me throughout, physically my body has been telling me something different. On Friday just over a week ago, my knee finally had the feeling that this recovery is a huge possibility. I did a full hour session which involved a long warm up, two different ‘keep ball’ games and finished with a small 8 vs 8 game. To complete that was indescribable. I’ve had two years and four months of football stolen from my life and finally I got to enjoy 60 minutes of the game I love so much. The closer I’ve got to returning to training the more technical the approach to my rehab has been. This is no ordinary injury so we’ve had to treat very scenario in an extraordinary way. At the moment I’m recording every bit of load that goes through my knee to determine exactly what my knee can cope with on a weekly basis. Last week I managed enough load to replicate a game situation over two sessions which is a great feat, next week (as I’ve done previously) the load will increase slightly to see how I manage with a little more. This has been the case over the last few months since work outside began. It can get slow, monotonous and frustrating if physically you feel capable of doing more, but it’s a case of trail and error. If at any stage I have a major reaction we can determine exactly at what moment the workload became too much and retract to the previous week that was acceptable. I’m hoping that within the next four weeks returning to contact training with the first team is a real possibility and I’m sure I don’t need to express how much that would mean to me. Of course I’m unable to grantee this milestone but with this recovery goals are imperative to keep you driving forward.
I’ve mentioned a few times on twitter the importance of the fans support throughout my recovery and I meant every word. Your patience, belief and attitude to my current situation has been inspiring. Too many players with serious injuries in the game become long forgotten and if and when they finally return, they are no longer looked or treated the same as they were before. This hasn’t been the case with you all throughout my rehabilitation, and that’s something you should all be proud of. The truth is I wouldn’t where I am at this moment in time without your support and when I finally return to competitive action once again I’ll do everything I can to return the faith you’ve shown in me.
Good luck to everyone in the season ahead, let’s hope that I can finally say I’ve been part of it.