Ian Sloan now injury-free and seeking to earn Rio hockey spot
Former Cookstown midfielder Ian Sloan - one of Ulster hockey's brightest young players - has finally shaken off almost two years of frustration to finish this season on a real high.
After three years in the international wilderness - during which he was sidelined through injury for 16 months in a 20-month period - the 21-year-old played a key role as outsiders Wimbledon won the English National League title play-offs last weekend and then got a call-up from Great Britain to feature in a non-capped game against Olympic champions Germany last week.
It was a double tonic for Sloan after so much had gone wrong since moving to England, and now he can look forward to featuring in next season's EuroHockey League with Wimbledon and hopefully making his proper GB debut during the summer with a view to establishing himself in time for the Rio Olympics.
"I suffered a hamstring tear, a stress fracture of the fifth metatarsal in my left foot, a re-fracture of the same bone that required an operation and then another hamstring strain," recalls Sloan.
"Being injured for so long was undoubtedly the toughest period of my career so far, especially given the fact that I had just moved over to England to play in the Premier League and try to break into the GB training squad.
"Joining Wimbledon from Loughborough turned out to be the perfect move for me and I don't think the season could have gone much better, getting to the play-offs and winning the title."
The youngest son of former Ireland captain Martin and Ireland women's international Adele, Sloan captained Cookstown High to a handful of trophies in his school career, won various honours with his home-town club, captained Ireland's Under-18s and was fast-tracked into the senior international team, where he won 21 caps.
However, the resignation of national coach Paul Revington made both Sloan and colleague David Ames consider their futures as they craved playing on the world stage, and so they took the decision to switch to GB knowing they would have to sit out international games for three years.
But after those injury problems in England, things are really looking up after Wimbledon's National League success.
He had barely time to celebrate the remarkable 8-5 success over East Grinstead in the final when news came through that GB had included him in a panel to take on Germany, along with three other Ulstermen - Iain Lewers, Mark Gleghorne and Ames.
Unfortunately for Sloan and Ames, the necessary paperwork to complete their switch from Ireland to GB, following the three-year break, wasn't completed on time for them to play in the Nations Cup challenge game against Germany on the Tuesday.
But it wasn't all bad news, as all four Ulstermen were in the starting line-up for the non-capped game the following day which GB won 3-2 with Gleghorne scoring the late winner.
That, in fact, could become the norm over the next year or two for GB.
And with Great Britain in Ireland's pool in the World League 3 series in Belgium in June, and England in the same pool as the Irish in August's EuroNations championships in London, it could see the four Ulstermen facing their former colleagues with a lot at stake.
"I have been training full-time with the GB squad since September and after such a long period out injured, I knew that it would take time to reach the level that is required within such a competitive squad," says Sloan.
"It was a very proud moment for me to receive the call-up to play against Germany last week and it was nice to perform well personally and help the team to a 3-2 win.
"My focus is to improve every day and I know that I will have to be patient and continue to work hard before I can break into the team for major competitions."