Trevor Carson: DVT scare has made me appreciate how lucky I am to play for Northern Ireland
Goalkeeper Trevor Carson has spoken about his joy at being involved in Northern Ireland's training camp this week after recovering from serious illness.
The Motherwell star is in Manchester with 19 other players as manager Michael O'Neill prepares for next month's vital Euro 2020 qualifiers in Estonia and Belarus.
It's a remarkable comeback for the 31-year-old, who has admitted to 'dark days' and fears that he would never play football again after being diagnosed with Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) in November just days after winning his fifth cap for his country against Austria at Windsor Park.
The popular Killyleagh man was forced to take a break from the game, go on medication and make numerous visits to hospital.
He returned to training with his club last month ahead of schedule, was named on the bench for Motherwell's final league game of the season last weekend and is now delighted to be training with the Northern Ireland squad.
"Meeting up with Northern Ireland for a training camp for the Euro qualifiers is great," said Carson.
"Michael O'Neill has been brilliant including me in that. I was supposed to come off the tablets I was on at the end of May and my worry was that would be when everyone was going on holiday, and I would be champing at the bit to get back and I'd have to wait a month until pre-season.
"The fact I came off the tablets a couple of weeks ago and have been able to train with my club and go on this international training camp means I don't want the season to end.
"After our final game of the season the Motherwell boys were buzzing for their holidays, but I was just thinking, 'When's the next session?'
"I'm really pleased to be with the Northern Ireland boys again."
Dad of two Carson says his family have been inspirational throughout a difficult process, keeping him going at times when all seemed lost.
He also paid tribute to Motherwell boss Stephen Robinson and his team-mates.
"I feared I would never play again. In the first few weeks it was all about the illness and it was just a relief to be alive," he said.
"Then when that died down and you got all the well wishes from people, it hit you, and you think about your career - 'Will I ever come back, and if I do will I come back the same?'
"I was in Manchester doing in-depth scans three months ago because we were never sure about the likelihood of it coming back.
"Thankfully I was told the illness was a one-off thing and that I had been very unlucky to get it.
"It was a relief to be informed there were no underlying problems and no reason why I couldn't return to professional football. Ever since then my mindset was on getting back as fit and as early as possible.
"The frustrating thing was after the first couple of weeks where the pain was really bad in my lungs, shoulder and chest, I felt fine when I was on the tablets.
"I was at the gym and on the treadmill but I couldn't do any of the contact stuff with the medication I was on, and that was tough because I was walking about fit and healthy.
"My first day back training was strange. I hadn't been nervous for about 10 years but I was going out with the boys and I was a bag of nerves.
"I was asking myself whether I would be at the same level. It's like riding a bike though, you just go out and get the gloves on and I feel great now.
"Throughout everything, my family were amazing. They really helped me get through it.
"The manager (Stephen Robinson) was also excellent in terms of telling me to spend as much time with my family as I wanted.
"Just being around the lads and having a normal routine was what I craved because the more you lie about and think about it, you start feeling sorry for yourself.
"When I returned to training and got battered by the Motherwell players it was great. The fans were brilliant too. It's a special family club.
"There were times when I was down, and I've had my dark days, but when you've got kids you can't just sit there feeling sorry for yourself - they pick you up every day.
"I'm forever grateful for it. If I didn't have such strong support, I might have crumbled and stayed in that dark place. I'm definitely out the other side now.
"It was a wake-up call for me having DVT. Now I appreciate little things like going for sessions with the boys. It's made me appreciate how lucky I am to have this job."