Luke McCullough may not qualify for a winner’s medal if Doncaster Rovers seal League Two title glory - but a return to the pitch has provided the Northern Ireland international with a significant personal reward.
The 23-year-old was expected to miss the full campaign following a cruciate ligament injury sustained last summer.
However, McCullough’s welcome return in Rovers colours recently arrived and he completed the full game last weekend in a 1-0 win which confirmed the club’s rapid return to League One.
Now Rovers have a league title as the target for the remainder of the campaign - with McCullough’s goal to clock up extra minutes over the final fixtures of a season once considered an unrealistic ambition.
“I managed to come back sooner than expected but I just kept my focus, worked hard and put in the rehab time,” said McCullough. “Once I came back in a game for the reserves and tested the knee without any issues I never had any concerns.
“When out on the pitch I am not thinking about the knee.
“There were good days and bad across the past season and the big bonus has just been to feel, once again, like a footballer.
“It is great to be back in the routine of training and playing.
“Even if I play in every match and it all goes to plan for the club I do not qualify for a winner’s medal.
“But my only aim is to play as much as possible then do pre-season.”
McCullough was part of Northern Ireland’s EURO 2016 squad and admits frustration at an enforced spell on the sidelines watching the World Cup qualifying campaign.
“Michael O’Neill and the Northern Ireland medical staff kept in touch across the whole process, which was great,” said McCullough. “It is not nice sitting out and missing fixtures for club or country but obviously also great to see us doing so well and winning games.
“If I continue to play for my club and do well then a benefit could be a return to the Northern Ireland squad down the line.”