Refusal to raise the white flag is paying off for Hearts’ Aidy White

At the end of their last league match, Hearts walked off the pitch to boos from the Tynecastle stands.

Aidy White believes his struggle with long-term injury has given him a mental toughness and resilience now that he  has made his Hearts first team debut. Picture: SNS.
Aidy White believes his struggle with long-term injury has given him a mental toughness and resilience now that he has made his Hearts first team debut. Picture: SNS.

But while there was no satisfaction in the result - a goalless draw with Ross County - or the overall performance, which included a missed penalty conceded thanks to his tired lunge, Aidy White couldn’t help but feel elated that he had come through the game physically unscathed.

Exhausted and in need of “an oxygen mask and a new pair of legs” he was relieved that after more than two years struggling to diagnose and then recover from a mystery injury he was back playing competitive football and pain free.

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In his darkest moments, the 27-year-old who had burst into Leeds United’s first team as a 16-year-old, feared that may never happen. The last time he had played was for Barnsley back in January 2017 but, bedevilled by pain, on and off the pitch, he spent the next 31 months seeing a raft of specialists, undergoing four hip, groin and abdominal surgeries and trying a range of alternative therapies aimed at getting to the root of the problem.

“I was playing for Barnsley at the time I first felt it,” said the full-back. “We won the Johnstone’s Paint final and the game after that I started with the problems, I played with it for about six to seven months and it was getting worse and worse and eventually I had to pull out because I was doing more damage than good.

“I was in games where I felt I couldn’t move and I was in all sorts of pain and stuff. It was constant. Even when I wasn’t playing or training I was still in pain. In the end I just feel that it was time that eventually healed it.

“But there were points where it crossed my mind whether I was ever going to get back. I was going to see all sorts of specialists and I was getting all sorts of diagnoses that either I felt weren’t correct or weren’t working.

“One specialist would give me one diagnosis then I’d go to another who was saying something entirely different. I just couldn’t get to the point where I was feeling good. We took a lot of time.

“I tried some stuff that you wouldn’t expect to try with the injury. It’s all part of it. If something was going to help, I was willing to do it. I’m really not sure if I am getting back from this, so anything was worth looking at.”

Desperate times demanded desperate measures. “I never hit that point where I had accepted I was quitting. But I hit some pretty low points. It crossed my mind that maybe enough would be enough but there was always something in the back of my head saying: ‘I know I can do this. Take it step by step and gradually you’ll get there’.”

A precocious talent as a teenager, his time on the sidelines has instilled in him psychological strengths to add to the physical attributes.

“I can – not put it behind me – but probably use that because it’s given me positives such as a greater mental toughness and resilience and a better outlook on football.

“I feel I am a lot more relaxed about it and I don’t take it for granted anymore. It can be gone so quickly. As a player you never think you could be in a situation where you’re thinking: ‘Am I ever going to play again?’ So I just try to enjoy it and be grateful.”

Hearts have given him the chance to rebuild and that gratitude extends to them. Happy to be back in the first-team picture, looking forward to this afternoon’s trip to Celtic Park this afternoon and a high octane tussle in front of 60,000 that will help banish the more painful memories of lonely rehab sessions, White knows he has a fight on his hands when it comes to securing the left-back berth.

Mirroring his own early emergence, he is up against a bright talent in young Aaron Hickey, who burst on to the scene to rave reviews last term and has maintained that form into the new season.

“I have been in that situation at 16/17 and played these games and I have that experience. He’s been brilliant but if I can be any help to him with my experience then I’ll give him tips and tricks. With how he’s doing at the minute he doesn’t look like he needs it, though! You think you’re indestructible at that age – hopefully he is! It certainly looks like that. He’s fantastic. But it’s also good for me because it gives me something to strive towards, a bit of competition.”

White has faced big battles before and his return to the Hearts team proves he is in it for the long haul and doesn’t back down.