STEVEN Taylor today put his seven-month injury nightmare behind him and returned to the Newcastle United fold.
Taylor was able to join in the first day of pre-season training after recovering from a ruptured Achilles.
The injury, suffered against Chelsea last December, ended Taylor’s campaign, but he has undergone a punishing few months of rehabilitation to return to full fitness.
The 26-year-old – who worked one-on-one with physio Derek Wright in Portugal last week – feels he’s ready for the physical challenges ahead of him after coming through a series of tough fitness tests.
“I can’t wait to get out there – it’s been so long,” Taylor told the Gazette. “I’m so excited to be back fit – I’ve missed it so much.
“The full team’s back apart from the lads on international duty, and I can’t wait to join in.
“I can’t wait to get started again and for the games to come along. I’ve had a few tests this week, and I’m fully fit.
“I was in Portugal last week with Derek Wright, and he pushed me hard. I was up first thing every morning for a session, and then another one at 10am.
“He was making sure I could do all the things defenders need to do. I’m back to how I should be, and I’ve lost my hamster cheeks!”
Taylor’s previous two seasons were disrupted by long-term injuries.
And having returned to form and fitness in the first few months of the campaign, the Achilles problem was especially hard to take for Taylor, who had been a contender for England’s 2012 squad.
“The last seven months have been hard work,” added Taylor.
“I’ve been in early every day grafting.
“I’d got over my other injuries, and it was just a freak injury. I still don’t know how it happened, but it’s now twice the strength it was before, and I’m back to how I should be feeling.
“I’ve had no niggles, and I’m happy with it. That’s the main thing.”
Taylor was kicking every ball during his long spell on the sidelines, and he has paid tribute to his team-mates, who ended the season in fifth and qualified for the Europa League.
“The lads were unbelievable – they did brilliantly,” added Taylor.
“When we were in America, people were tipping us for relegation, but we proved them wrong.
“We stuck together, and played as a team. I was kicking every ball watching.
“Credit where it’s due, the lads were brilliant, and the manager deserved the awards he got.”
Had it not been for his injury, Taylor – who captained Stuart Pearce’s England Under-21 side – could have represented Great Britain in the Olympic football tournament this month.
However, Taylor’s only focus is on pulling on a United jersey again.
The centre-half, outstanding alongside Fabricio Coloccini before succumbing to injury last season, is also relishing a return to European competition.
Taylor made his debut for Newcastle, then managed by Sir Bobby Robson, in a UEFA Cup tie away to Mallorca in March 2004, when he found himself up against Samuel Eto’o.