Hibs kid Kevin set for cruel summer

IT'S the day every professional footballer dreads, the return to pre-season training after a well-earned summer break, the punishing fitness schedule which lies ahead a necessary evil.

For Kevin McCann, however, that day can't come quickly enough as the Hibs kid looks to put a 15-month injury nightmare behind him.

As Mixu Paatelainen's players say their goodbyes on Monday before heading off to the sun, 21-year-old McCann will be left home alone at the club's impressive East Mains Training Centre.

But you won't hear any complaints from the young defender, who will continue the daily grind towards full fitness, determined to be ready to force his way back into Paatelainen's plans as the new season kicks off in mid-August.

While he agrees he's endured a long, hard journey, McCann can now see "a massive light" at the end of the tunnel, having only this week rejoined Paatelainen's squad on the training field, albeit he has been restricted to non-contact sessions.

Finally, he can begin to shake off the knee problem which has dogged him for almost 24 months and restricted him to just one SPL match since February last year.

Having seen two courses of painful injections fail to cure the tendinosis in his right knee, McCann was forced to undergo surgery to cure the problem which was causing him pain with every step before beginning the arduous and lengthy healing process.

It's been tough at times but, McCann insisted today, the nightmare he's been through will ensure he'll cherish every single minute of his career as a football star.

He said: "It's not often you'll hear a player say he can't wait for the first day of pre-season training but I'm desperate to get started.

"It's been a long year for me but these things happen, you just have to get on with it and be positive rather than negative.

"I've tried to use my time wisely, working in the gym to build myself up and, hopefully, I can bounce back next season the strongest I have ever been.

"I'm doing a sort of pre pre-season and that will carry on throughout the summer.

"The rest of the boys will be packing up to go on holiday at the start of next week but, other than a two-week break when the physio is away, I'll be here most days."

Although he knows he is nearing the stage when a return to full training is within touching distance, McCann also appreciates that this could be the most dangerous time for him if he tries to push on too quickly.

To that end, physio Colin McLelland, who has overseen his rehabilitation, has found his patience tested as McCann readily admits.

He said: "The last time I saw the surgeon he said this last month would be the hardest in trying not to go overboard, even although I feel fine.

"The last thing I want to do is that wee bit too much and put myself out for another couple of months and, to that end, I have followed all the exercises I have been given to the letter."

Even so, McCann admitted it's been difficult to find the necessary restraint. He said: "Colin has kept me going, kept me motivated. He's shown the patience of a saint. He gets all my bad moods like the other day.

"The day before I'd been out doing the warm-up with the rest of the boys and I came in thinking I'd be doing the same but Colin kept me in the gym instead to prevent me doing too much too early.

"I was moaning away to him but, when you sit down and think about it, that was the right thing to do.

"He's been keeping the reins on me, telling me to jog when I wanted to go half-pace and then insisting I go half-pace when I wanted to go faster. That's his job and he has done fantastically well for me, I cannot thank him enough."

McCann's appetite has been whetted, though, by joining his team-mates even if he was limited in what he was allowed to do. He said: "You do get jealous, looking out from the gym and seeing all the boys running about. But they've helped me through it as well, popping in for a chat and letting me know what's been going on."

And, if he is ever feeling low, McCann simply remembers the chance meeting he had with a six-year-old boy who was recovering from leukaemia when the youngster's family visited East Mains Training Centre.

He said: "Ever since then I've changed my thinking about life, not just football. That family were certainly positive and, while perhaps they don't realise it, they helped me a lot.

"As football players we maybe take things for granted but I realise I've got the best job in the world and I'm determined to make the most of the opportunities I am given.

"The wee boy's father texted me not so long ago to say his son is doing well, that everything is all right so hopefully he will get better and I'll see him along at Easter Road for a game next season."

Had it not been for his injury McCann could well have been approaching his 100th first-team game for Hibs by this stage rather than having 30 first team matches to his name, but that is one milestone he is determined to achieve.

He said: "It would be brilliant to do that, I've seen others get there and I'd love to have been in that position.

"I've found it frustrating, it's hard to watch games because you are looking on from afar, I'm an injured football player rather than a football player at the moment.

"But, hopefully, the work I do over the summer when the rest of the boys are away will give me that edge so I can hit the ground running when we all return for pre-season and allow me to show the manager and everyone that I am working as hard as anything." And McCann insisted he'll have no fear about returning to action after such a lengthy lay-off. He said: "Perhaps it might have been different had I been badly injured in a tackle or suffered ligament damage in a twist but the pain I was feeling in my knee with every step I took has gone and now I can't wait for that first tackle.

"It's been a tough year or so but now there is a massive light at the end of the tunnel and I am going to cherish every minute of every game. In the past, if things hadn't happened for me during a game I'd get a bit down but now I have matured a bit, I've had this happen to me but I've seen people have worse things happen to them."