Chris Brunt enjoying being in Northern Ireland squad for first time in 13 months
Chris Brunt is relishing being back in the Northern Ireland squad for the first time in 13 months having wondered if the opportunity would ever arise again.
A serious knee injury ended Brunt's season back in February and denied him a spot in Michael O'Neill's Euro 2016 squad when the 31-year-old utility man may have otherwise been considering a swansong in France.
Instead his focus was on returning from the biggest injury of his career, an achievement he managed last month with West Brom after an eight-month rehabilitation period that saw him lift the equivalent of 40 elephants.
He is now back with the squad that, bar the retirement of Chris Baird, has been kept together post-France, though Brunt concedes he still has to tread carefully as he bids to combine club and international commitments.
"It's nice to be back playing generally; it's been a long few months," he said.
"I was thrown in at the deep end at West Brom but I have felt it a bit this week after a few 45 minutes and two 90 minutes.
"I suppose I did have some sort of decision to make (on his international future). When you see what Bairdy did after the Euros, had I played at the tournament then maybe it would have been easier (to retire).
"At this moment in time it definitely suits me to be playing more games with Northern Ireland but I really do have to take it one game at a time.
"On the international front I have to take it game by game because I don't know how this week is going to affect me going back in to West Brom next week.
"I've only got this year left (on his contract) at West Brom. That's not a position I have been in before; I had an option of a further year at West Brom before but this is a new experience.
"It's the only time I've ever played into the last year of my contract but after being out for so long I was just concentrating on getting back out to training and on the pitch.
"The last few weeks have been good but I can't make too many commitments at the minute. After missing out in the summer I had to see if I am capable of playing at this level both with Northern Ireland and my club and only time will tell that."
Brunt remained part of the Northern Irish squad in France as he recovered from his injury and it was only after their historic 2-0 win over Ukraine when he truly missed being a part of the action.
"The summer wasn't massively difficult, I had a few media commitments which made it easier but in Lyon when I was with the squad it was difficult," he added.
"I was sat with the physio and the doc and just wanted to be out there warming up with the lads. But from the moment the injury happened, I knew I had no chance of playing at the Euros.
"It was good to be there and be around everyone but it was also the closest I've got to having the fans' experience too, but nothing beats playing."