Derrygonnelly forward Paul Ward is looking forward to getting back into competitive action after 13 months out through injury.

The veteran Harps attacker, who will be 37 next month, last pulled on the jersey at the start of June 2019 when he picked up a horror hamstring injury against St. Patrick’s.

He was on the operating table six weeks later and following a long period of rehabilitation he was ready to get back on the pitch when the lockdown came.

With football now returning though he is back on the training ground preparing for the new season which will get underway in two weeks time.

Ward has a clear memory of the injury happening.

“I went to try and tackle and I jumped off my right leg and I just felt something go. I never really had hamstring injuries before but I knew there was something serious. You often hear people say that you hear a pop when your hamstring goes and I thought that I did hear that. The next day I could hardly move.

“Basically, the three tendons that are attached the hamstring were ripped off the bone and the hamstring just retracted down the leg, it wasn’t good.

“Thankfully though I got it looked at pretty quickly and got booked into Craigavon Hospital for the operation. I think the fact that I got it treated relatively quick aided my recovery,” he said.

It meant that Ward was ruled out of the Harps run to a fifth successive New York Cup as well as a fine Ulster Club campaign that saw them take the scalps of Cargin and Trillick before losing out to Kilcoo in the semi-final.

“It was disappointing to miss out on it but it would have been more disappointing if it had happened during a championship run.

“It happened in June and the championship wasn’t to August so it gave me plenty of time to get used the idea of not playing,” he explained.

And he remained in around the squad for the rest of the season, helping out in whatever way he could.

“For the first couple of weeks I watched the games on my own, I wouldn’t be a good man for sitting in the stand watching. After that I was at every training and the management and the boys were happy enough for me to be about.

“During the championship I would have done the water at the far side of the pitch and different wee things like that and it was good to be involved. It is a different perspective and I suppose it won’t be that long before I’m watching every game from the sideline,” he laughed.

It was not the same though as contributing on the pitch for the team.

“Football has been a massive part of my life for so many years and when you are not playing like I wasn’t last year you don’t feel the same. Yes it was nice to be involved in the background but it is not the same as playing and knowing that you have contributed.”

All the time too he was doing his rehab with a determination to return to action.

“Rehab by yourself isn’t easy, to be honest, it’s a lonely process and it is hard to see progress and where you are.

“There is Colm O’Neill from Cork who did three cruciates and then came back to play and I don’t know how you would have the mindset to keep coming back time after time and do all that rehab.

“I had done a lot of reading up on it though and if you got your operation relatively quickly and you did your rehab work correctly there was a good percentage chance that you would return,” commented the former Fermanagh forward.

It was frustrating then when the season was called to a halt due to the Covid-19 crisis.

“I had done so much by myself and I was looking forward to getting back with the boys but then lockdown came and it was back to working on my own.”

With the easing of restrictions though training has returned ahead of the shortened season and it’s a case of so far so good for the player.

“ I don’t think the hamstring will ever be the way it was but I’ve done a few training sessions and it seemed to go well. So far so good.

“Look, I suppose you don’t really know until you are in a game situation. You can do all the movements and turning on the training pitch but it is not the same as when you have a defender slapping at you and right on your heels and you have to accelerate and decelerate and then twist and turn to get away,” he added.

A revised fixture list for the season was released last week and Ward feels that the county board have done all that they can given the circumstances.

“I think the county board have done as well as they can with the situation that was in front of them. People will complain but there is only so much they can do. They have to give the club players football and after that they have to give the county team time to prepare for two massive league games and then the championship game against Down.”

Derrygonnelly begin their league programme with a home game against Tempo on Sunday July 26 but with no relegation in the league this year, Ward believes that clubs will use the league to be ready for championship.

“I think with no relegation or promotion teams will be using the league games as championship warm ups.

“Those first five league games will probably be used to iron out the rustiness and maybe get game plans in place,” he stated.

The Harps will enter the championship as strong favourites to make it six in a row but Ward says that they are looking no further ahead than that quarter-final encounter against Roslea.

“There is no way you can look beyond Roslea.Everybody know the quality that they have and we’ll expect a tough test and I’m sure Roslea and looking at it the same way.

“You can’t afford to look any further than the first game.”

Most importantly though Ward is looking forward to simply getting back out on the pitch.

“It is 13 months now since I’ve played so I’m just looking forward to getting back out on the field and if it is just playing Juniors I’m happy enough just to get back kicking any ball this year.”