Western Sydney Wanderers forward Mark Bridge thought his calf injury would force him into retirement without kicking a ball this season.
The 33-year-old Hyundai A-League Championship winner was felled by the calf injury in pre-season.
And just when he thought he’d overcome the problem, he was hit with another setback a week out from Round 1.
The uncertainty had Bridge doubting he’d ever take to the pitch in a Red and Black jersey again.
“It wasn’t just like it was an ACL or something, where it’s something you’re prepared for, you’re going to be out for a very long time,” said Bridge.
“The first time (the calf) went and I thought ‘okay, I’ll be back for the start of the season’.
“Then it went again the week before the season started, so that’s what hurts the most — the recurring of the same thing, where you think you’re going to be back and then, bang, it happens again.
“It was tough, I definitely questioned whether I’d come back at all after so long out at my age, so to get back out there and get back involved in the match day stuff is pretty incredible.”
Bridge said the hardest part of the injury wasn’t the physical pain, but the mental battles that underpinned it all.
Stationed metres away from his teammates, Bridge was forced to undergo rehab alone with the Wanderers’ medical staff, working just as hard as those on the pitch but missing out on the camaraderie.
It’s made him stronger, no doubt, and within touching distance of a massive milestone.
“This period of my career has probably been the toughest, it’s been a long time out, a lot of time by yourself in the gym which is hard.
“To get out there eventually this year and be back with the boys, even just being in the match day squad again is a great achievement for me and something I’m very proud of and I look back on proudly.
“It’s a big achievement to reach 250 (games) in the A-League, there aren’t that many games played throughout the season,” said the 247-game veteran.
“There are nine players who have done already so I’ll be the tenth, so it’s something I’m aiming for.
“Whether or not I get there is a different thing,” he laughed.
Babbel: Football is sometimes strange
Wanderers coach Markus Babbel was in a philosophical mood ahead of Western Sydney’s clash against Brisbane Roar on Friday night.
Babbel’s men have won two of their last three games and salvaged a last-gasp 1-1 draw against ladder-leaders Perth Glory in their last match.
According to the German, the results are in stark contrast to earlier in the 2018/19 Season where his side was producing better performances, without the rewards.
“Football is sometimes strange,” said Babbel.
“Before, I think we played better football, we created much more chances, but we couldn’t score and conceded too many goals.
“Now, we’re not creating not so many chances anymore but we’re definitely stronger, not giving so many chances away and also we’re scoring now.
With this season’s Hyundai A-League Finals Series still a mathematical chance for the Wanderers, Babbel wasn’t ruling out a late charge from his side.
Though, with the odds stacked against his side, talk inevitably turned to recruitment for the 2019/20 campaign.
“It’s not so easy because with the salary cap you are limited,” said Babbel.
“Also, players have contracts so a massive change will not be there but we have to do something because I think the club is not happy with the last two years, we are not happy with the last two years, so we have to change something.
“We will do something.”