Tommie Hoban admits there were times when he doubted if he’d ever get back to playing top-level football.
But the Aberdeen defender – who recently penned a new contract to keep him at the club until the end of the season – is delighted he’s managed to do so at Pittodrie.
Hoban suffered a cruciate ligament injury for the second time in his career while on loan to the Dons from Watford in February 2019.
It took two operations and 18 months for the 26-year-old to get back to fitness.
Hoban was born in England, but has represented the Republic of Ireland at Under-21 level. He returned Aberdeen during his rehabilitation after leaving Watford last summer and proved his fitness in pre-season training this summer to earn a short-term deal with the Dons which has since been extended.
Asked if he had doubted if he would get back playing, Hoban said: “Most players return after around nine months from the injury I had.
“But I was seven months in and still in a lot of pain. I had surgery on the knee which thankfully did help.
“It solved the problem, but at seven months I felt like I was going around in circles.
“There were moments when you think, ‘is it ever going to get better?’
“I knew from previous injuries that your body eventually sorts itself out.
“I kept that belief and it’s so important not to doubt yourself, you need to believe you are going to get back. I kept focused, worked hard every day and eventually it paid dividends.”
After being without a club after being released by Watford Hoban had to fund his second operation and the costs of working with physios from his own savings.
Hoban, who is set to face Dundee United at Tannadice today, added: “I funded the physio myself and the PFA did give me some help at stages.
“The majority I paid for myself. I saw it as an investment in myself, without the help of physios, it’s near enough impossible to come back from the type of injury I had.
“I needed to get the same level of care I would have had at a club and I was thankful to have some good phyios over that 18 months.
“I’m grateful to them for helping me get back playing.
“I was fortunate to be in a position to fund it, but it was difficult.
“It’s something I’ve always been interested in as my dad (James) is a financial adviser.
“He’s always banging on to me about the importance of saving and that’s helped me throughout my career so far.
“Thankfully I was able to dip into that as that’s what it’s there for at the end of the day.
“It was quite a bit of money at the time, but in the long run I hope it will be worth it.”
Hoban admits his time on the sidelines also made him think about a career away from football and he said: “I had a second child during it and as it starts to run out you start to panic so I was happy to get back playing when I did.
“There were days when I started to think about another career for after football and that’s something we all need to think about at some stage.
“The last year has benefited me in some ways as it forced me to think about that as I’ve started to make plans, not serious plans, but I’m looking at life after football.”
Hoban is thankful for the opportunity the Dons have given him to rebuild his career and hopes he can repay the club and boss Derek McInnes.
“The club have been fantastic with me in the process of getting fit, they gave me the option to come back and here and help with my rehab as it was obviously difficult getting back,” he said.
“Once I was fit, the offer was to come back, train and regain my fitness and that was something I jumped at.
“I’m delighted the club have given me the opportunity and I want to pay them back.
“I want to get minutes on the pitch and help Aberdeen to have a successful season, which I’m confident we can have.”
Being without a club, Hoban says trying to get back fit and arranging the treatment he needed was challenging.
He said: “When you are at a club you have guidance from the club and the doctors and physios help you make decisions.
“I had to arrange everything myself, which was new to me. When you’re at a football club, everything is done for you.
“I had to make the decisions as I looked at it as my last shot to get back, so I made sure everything was done properly but it was challenging.
“I tried to stay as positive as I could and I was lucky to have a great support network around me like my family.
“There were days where it was really hard, I’m just enjoying being fit again.”