I feared career was over, now I'm out to put Cliftonville back on top: Joe Gormley
Cliftonville hero Joe Gormley can't wait for the new Irish League campaign to begin, revealing that at the lowest point of his career just two years ago he worried if he would ever play again.
In a candid and uplifting interview, the Solitude sharpshooter has spoken about dark days after suffering a serious knee injury in the early months of his professional career, how his family helped him overcome those difficult times and why he's relishing the opportunity to play for Cliftonville again and make his mum Marguerite even prouder.
Gormley's story will be one of the most fascinating to watch in local football this season. Today he will lead the attack for the Reds at home to Ards in the Danske Bank Premiership.
In his previous spell with the north Belfast club, Gormley became known as 'Joe the Goal' scoring a spectacular 122 times in 183 matches. Alongside Liam Boyce, now with Burton Albion and a key figure in the Northern Ireland squad, Gormley terrorised defences as Cliftonville won back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014.
It was no surprise with his goal ratio that professional clubs came calling. He joined Peterborough United in the summer of 2015 but a couple of months into the season he snapped the cruciate ligaments in his knee and was looking at a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
The recovery was tough on mind and body, but he eventually made it back and played once for Peterborough at the start of last season before joining St Johnstone on loan. The time out of action and away from his close knit family had taken its toll. Gormley wasn't happy and made the massive call to walk away from the professional ranks and return home, where in January he agreed to join Cliftonville with Crusaders, Linfield and a few others chasing his signature.
Due to Fifa rules, he couldn't play for the Reds last season as he had already turned out for Peterborough and St Johnstone. In pre-season he has been hammering in the goals. Now, the 27-year-old is itching to do it for real, deliver for new boss Barry Gray and stay at Solitude until he eventually calls it quits.
"It's amazing to be back. I've never been happier," said Gormley, a genuine soul and not one to waste his words.
"I'm really looking forward to the new season. I want to do so well for Cliftonville and I want us to get back to winning trophies, the way it was when I was here the last time.
"I haven't really been playing for two years and I just want to get back in the groove of things and have an injury-free run for the rest of my time at Cliftonville."
Reflecting on the difficult period between his knee injury and now, Gormley said: "It was the toughest two years of my life. I have never experienced anything like it and I wouldn't like to experience it again.
"I played a few pre-season games for Peterborough and did quite well and then reality hit at the start of the season when I got the injury and I wasn't able to play. It knocked me for six.
"I was disillusioned, definitely. As soon as it happened, I thought things would never be the same again and I would never play football. There were things going through my head and it was tough.
"I wanted to get back playing football. I went to Scotland to try and do that but I found it difficult and at that stage I thought I had to get home. I spoke with lots of people about my future with Peterborough. I think I was speaking to too many people and felt it was time to make my mind up and go home.
"My mum would always ring me and say your health is more important than your wealth and stuff like that. The decision ultimately was mine because I just wanted to be happy again and be the Joe Gormley I was when I first went away.
"The main reason I came home was because I wanted to be happy and when I was at Cliftonville I had the best four years of my life. I felt that if I went back for hopefully the rest of my career I would feel like I did for those four years.
"Because I've been out for so long, I want to get back to playing in important matches in front of the Cliftonville fans and in front of my family. My family never miss a game and my mum was really proud of me when I was playing for Cliftonville. What I want to do is get back to my best and do well for Cliftonville and make her even more proud."
So, what about his fitness and ambitions for the season ahead?
"I'm feeling really good and raring to go," he said with a smile. "I believe we have the team, the players, the backroom staff and the manager. We have got everything and I don't see why we can't challenge. Hopefully the new players, myself included, can help take Cliftonville to the top again."
Ironically, Gormley's ex-team-mate Boyce, on the back of his move from Ross County to English football with Burton, suffered a serious knee injury in pre-season which will keep him out for seven months.
Gormley has been in touch with his pal to offer support and predicts that "incredible footballer" Boyce will be a major hit at Burton when he regains full fitness.
He refutes any suggestion, though, that Cliftonville's last two title wins were solely down to the dream team in attack.
Gormley said: "I know we scored a lot of goals but you have to understand the players around us helped us so much. The likes of George McMullan, Ryan Catney and Barry Johnston were vital. Their experience helped bring out the best in us and of course the manager Tommy Breslin and Minto (coach Peter Murray) were huge too."
There have been some changes since those days with Gray now in charge after Gerard Lyttle moved to Sligo Rovers and some new faces on the playing staff. Cliftonville fans will hope this season it will be the same Joe Gormley they loved before.