As I See It – Stephen O’Donnell

Ahead of the return of the SSE Airtricity League Dundalk captain Stephen O'Donnell gives us the story behind one of his favourite pictures from a memorable last game of the 2014 season at Oriel Park.
Dundalk v Cork City - SSE Airtricity League Premier Division

24 October 2014; Dundalk's Stephen O'Donnell celebrates scoring his side's first goal. SSE Airtricity League Premier Division, Dundalk v Cork City, Oriel Park, Dundalk, Co. Louth. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

  Before the end of the season I was out injured for six months when I damaged my cruciate against Shamrock Rovers in April. I didn't need surgery on the cruciate itself but I tore all my lateral ligaments, ripped my popliteus muscle off the bone, and done my meniscus. I basically did everything else in the knee bar needing surgery on the cruciate itself. It was definitely hard to watch those games but it would have been worse if the team had struggled, whereas we were winning and still in contention so that in itself gave me something to aim for if I could get back before the end of the season and we might still have something to play for. The surgeon Ray Moran said that if the surgery went well and if I done all my rehab properly and treated myself right there could be a slight chance I might be back for the last couple of weeks. Basically everyday I'd be going to the gym and just building the leg muscles up around my knee and obviously keeping my upper body in decent shape. That was my full-time job, just being in the gym to make sure I would be in the best possible shape if I did come back, but it was hard work to keep your body right. I had a couple of weeks of football before the final game of the season against Cork City. I was back training for maybe a week or so and had a practice match before I came on in the league against Shamrock Rovers and then against Bray. But then I felt a little injury in my calf in training on the Monday before the Cork game, so I didn't train for that whole week. I done a late fitness test on the Friday night before the game and thankfully I came through that. I knew from the previous couple of games when I came on that my fitness wasn't that bad. I felt powerful in my legs, and my body felt good and fit. I knew I had one game to focus on and then I could give my knee a good rest and recover in the next few months in the off-season, so I went in with a bit of freedom. You'd be thinking in the build-up to the game it would be great to score an important goal and  especially after missing a sitter in the first-half, I thought really that was my chance gone but it was a great feeling getting that first goal and especially going on to win the game 2-0. It's not often you play in games like that where the top two are playing each other and the winner wins the league. It was a unique game and it was a great feeling to score that goal. There was such big build-up to the game and maybe a lot of people saying that we had missed our chance having led the league for so long and then Cork getting ahead of us. It was great with everyone coming onto the pitch and the celebrations after the final whistle. It was just a great night, and a night that I'll look back on with great memories in years to come.