Duncan Watmore on the long trip back to fitness at Sunderland
'Against QPR in the Cup last year we had a one-two and he scored so we've recreated that a lot in the gym over the past ten months!'
Duncan Watmore is reflecting on the long, arduous road he and Paddy McNair have travelled on since the first serious injuries of their careers.
Wins at home against Leicester City, Hull City and Watford raised hopes that Sunderland were turning the corner in late 2016 but it proved to be a false dawn.
One of the key reasons for that was the subsequent absence of the pair, who had stepped up to fill two of the many of the voids from Sam Allardyce’s successful 4-3-3 system the season before.
Tonight, they will finally share the pitch together again, albeit in an U23 game against Hertha Berlin.
It has not been plain sailing, with both suffering deflating setbacks, but it is almost over.
They have had to watch a slow painful relegation from above, Watmore admitting that the game looks a lot easier, and thus far more frustrating, from the stands.
10 months of running, DJ Sammy in the gym, more running, always more running, will finally be replaced by the adrenaline of competitive football.
“It was great having Paddy,” Watmore says.
“Neither of us wanted an injury like that, obviously, but the fact it happened so close together was a blessing in disguise.
“I don’t know if it was for Binners (Dave Binningsley), our rehab physio – he had a lot on his hands with my and Paddy joking about the place for nine or 10 months but he’s been great as well.
“As a three we got on with our work and all the other staff who have come into it have been great with me and Pad as well. I’m sure he’d say exactly the same.
“It had worked well in terms of pushing each other and being there for each other.
“I think a lot of the time you don’t think about it (your comebacks), you just get on with your rehab because thinking about it in the first month when you’ve got ten ahead is a bit demoralising so you just take it step by step but as you get closer you definitely start thinking about being back on the pitch and hopefully making a difference.”
Watmore has already done that, causing Preston’s defence all sorts of problems in an encouraging cameo at Deepdale.
For McNair, competition in central midfield is heavy, but his energy and ability to play higher up the field can work in his favour.
Despite his obvious delight at returning, Watmore returns still far from his best.
Those around him have helped ensure plenty of realism, and there has been support from all manner of Black Cats past and present.
I’ve been told, and its not to be pessimistic, the surgeon has always been very realistic, that even this season the knee might not feel the same, it will take time but the more gym you do, the more you play, the more confident you get with it, it will come,” he said.
“I’m going into it with a positive attitude, that I can get back and improve, but a realistic one too.
“Wes Brown did it and he sent me a couple of texts checking how I was doing, he’s been great.
“You know people who have done it in the academy or the first team and everyone’s been great. They’re always letting you know it’s not the end of the world.
“It’s not going to be perfect when you come back, don’t have unrealistic expectations that you’re going to straight away have a brand new knee and it be perfect and you’re flying, it just doesn’t work like that.
“People have been very good in terms of keeping my expectations at the right level and I’ve been lucky with that support,” he added.
“I was running from April, maybe even end of March, then my setback meant I had to lay off for a couple of months before I started again.
“But what that tells is you is I’ve been running for a long, long time, all in a straight line, not even getting close to touching a ball,” he added.
“You’re doing laps of the pitch and you see the first team getting ready for games, frustration is probably the main word because you can’t change it.
“All you can do is be the fittest you can be and I feel good, match fitness will just come with games but in my running and training, I feel really good.”
Rare good news for Sunderland fans, who have become used to the worst in his absence.