Gareth McAuley feared he would have to quit because of mystery stomach virus
West Brom defender Gareth McAuley admits his first taste of Barclays Premier League football at the age of 31 is even sweeter after revealing a mystery summer stomach virus threatened to end his career.
Northern Ireland skipper McAuley is looking forward to the possibility of a 10th successive start in today's away clash with QPR after finally breaking into Roy Hodgson's side in late September.
He has formed an impressive centre-back partnership alongside Jonas Olsson since a suspension picked up by Gabriel Tamas handed him his opportunity.
But it was almost a different story after McAuley's first chance of top-flight football following a move from Ipswich was put on hold by the illness.
McAuley said: "I couldn't have got a worse start than when I came here and got that virus. For a while I was actually thinking that I was just going to finish. It was getting to that stage.
"I'd had the illness for six to eight weeks and I just wasn't getting over it.
"You just wonder where it will end, or if that is the end. That's what I felt.
"Now, when I look back at photos from then, I can see that I was in a bad way.
"I look terrible, really unhealthy, but we didn't know what had caused it or anything like that."
Thankfully for McAuley, the illness eventually subsided.
He said: "I had some tests and they showed everything was okay. They said it was a post-virus reaction.
"For a week we dropped the training right back and gave my body just time to fight back and get the virus out of my system.
"From there it was a matter of hard work, eating the right food to get the weight and the muscle mass back on so that I was strong enough to compete. Fortunately things have picked up from there."
Former glazier and draftsman McAuley is taking nothing for granted in terms of his place in the side after head coach Hodgson has already shown his ruthless streak this season.
He said: "When the chance comes you have got to take it. Your head has got to be right, you have got to be physically ready, because you might be waiting a long time for a second chance.
"But you are going to have to play well or other players are going to be in there.
"Already this season the gaffer has left out Nicky Shorey and Paul Scharner, guys who have played a lot of football at this level, so if you are not doing the job it doesn't matter who you are.
"Playing alongside Jonas has been great. We've got an understanding together quite quickly but hopefully that will get better and better with more games.
"We bring a good balance because he has played a lot of games at this level and I've had more experience in international football so we play off each other well."
McAuley has plenty of respect for QPR after doing battle with them for Ipswich last season.
He said: "They were by far the best team in the Championship last year and they have gone out and added players to that.
"It's going to be tough because Loftus Road is a tight little ground and the crowd are right on top of you.
"They play and they have the personality of Neil Warnock. They will mix it up and will be in our faces and we've got to rise above that and stick to our own game.
"We've got to pass and play and try to create chances."