Eyebrows were raised when Paddy McNally’s name appeared on the Portadown team sheet a couple of weeks ago.
The most surprised person inside Shamrock Park when he was listed among the substitutes for the clash with Carrick Rangers, however, was McNally himself.
Next weekend will mark a year since the centre-half suffered major knee ligament damage — not the dreaded anterior cruciate ligament injury, but the posterior ligament at the back of the knee.
After 12 months of tough gym work, it will be a few weeks before he will appear in a starting line-up.
“There were two injuries in the warm-up, I’d been out on the pitch doing some rehab work and I was only there basically just for the numbers,” McNally explained after his surprise involvement.
“It was great to be involved on a match day because that’s what you want as a player.”
A matter of weeks prior to the injury, McNally had been awarded the 2019-20 Championship Player of the Year award as recognition of his performances in the Ports’ promotion campaign, but just seven matches into the delayed season the brakes were put on his return to the top flight.
The Ports have undoubtedly missed a player of McNally’s quality and manager Matthew Tipton has made no secret of the fact that he is working to strengthen his defence in the January transfer window.
Ahead of today’s meeting with third-placed Larne, Portadown have conceded 33 goals in 14 games, including six in the last two against Carrick Rangers and Dungannon Swifts.
McNally is hungry to get back onto the pitch and help remedy the defensive issues.
After spending the last year watching from the stands — and that one game from the bench — the former Celtic trainee believes at 27-years-old he will be coming back a better player.
“I haven’t put a date on anything, but I do hope 2022 is going to be a big year for me,” said McNally. “Watching the game from the stands every week, you see the game completely differently.
“The selfish aspect comes out of it, because every footballer is selfish because you just want to do well.
“When that comes out of it and you start worrying about the collective then you get a small inkling of what the manager feels every day where you are just rooting for the lads every week. It’s actually harder in the stand because you can’t do anything about it.
“Hopefully this is just a small bump in the road.”