HUNT THE younger is back after almost a year on the sidelines, and he has already promised that Ireland and Reading fans will now see his true potential after he finally got the all-clear from a knee injury which almost ended his career.
Last Saturday's game in the Championship between Portsmouth and Reading, a 1-1 draw, was not a result to send shockwaves through the football world, but it was a major occasion for Reading striker Noel Hunt as his second-half cameo as a substitute was his first appearance in 10 months.
A knee injury forced Stephen Hunt's kid brother to miss most of last season with the Royals and also robbed him of the chance to win six more Ireland caps, an injury which has been holding the Waterford man back even before his move to the UK from Shamrock Rovers in 2003.
But his 10-month absence may have a silver lining as Hunt, who says he holds out a faint hope of making the cut when Marco Tardelli announces the Ireland squad this Friday for the Euro 2012 qualifiers against Armenia and Andorra, says he now feels fit and ready to take on the world again.
"It's just amazing to be back, ten months is a long time to be out as I missed a lot of games, big games, with Ireland and Reading in that time but I have come through at the other end ok," Hunt told the Herald.
"I came on for the last 20 minutes or so against Portsmouth on Saturday and that was a big day for me, the fans gave me a great reception. And yesterday was another milestone for me too as I played for the reserves in a game against (Leyton) Orient and scored.
"It's probably a case of taking it game by game at the moment. We have (Nottingham) Forest in the league on Saturday but that might be too soon for me to start so I might be looking at the following week, when we play Northampton and Leicester City.
"I know the Ireland squad is out at the end of the week and while it would mean the world to me to get in there, it might be a long shot. Ireland were down a few strikers in terms of injury for the Argentina game last week and you'd expect lads like Kevin Doyle and Shane Long to be back fit, so it might be too much for me to make the squad after just one game for the club.
"But if I do get the nod it would mean the world to me, I'd swim over to Ireland to join up with the squad if I was asked," added Hunt, who made his senior debut against Poland and played in the World Cup qualifiers away to Italy and at home to Montenegro.
But Hunt says that the Irish fans and coaching staff have never seen the best of him as he's been bothered by a persistent knee injury for most of his senior career.
"I don't think I have ever been fully fit when I came in with the Ireland squad, this knee has been at me for as long as I can remember now, it's been at me since I was back in the League of Ireland," he says.
"I think it goes back to the FAI Cup final with Shamrock Rovers in 2002. I missed a few weeks before the Cup final but I was desperate to get back for the final. I played and we lost to Derry, but I probably came back too early and that was the start of the problems for me.
"The problem, I later found out, was chronic tendonitis with calcification there too. Basically, the bone was nicking into the tendons, it was at me almost every time I ran. I should have got it seen to it properly a long time ago but I just wanted to keep playing. I was a young lad, I just got the move away when I went to Dunfermline and maybe I thought it would just go away," added Hunt.
"Since I was a kid all I wanted to do was play football professionally and play for Ireland and I was getting to do that, so I just accepted the injury and the pain as part of all that.
"But in the end I was forced to get it seen to. It came to a head when Reading played West Brom in the Championship last season, I got a whack and had to come off at half time. It was so bad just then, I couldn't even walk to the toilet.
"When I got it scanned after that, I was told that I'd be risking my career if I kept playing, I needed to get it sorted if I wanted to have a long career so I went for the operation. It's been hard on me since then but it could be the best thing that ever happened to me in the long run. If this has sorted out my knee finally, it could prolong my career," added Hunt, who is also hoping that his brother can recover from his own injury woes and get back playing again.
"Stephen hasn't been able to play for Wolves yet due to the injury but he's just desperate to get back, with Ireland and Wolves," Noel says.
"Stephen has no patience, he wants to be fit yesterday but, like me, he can't rush back if he's not right, so hopefully the two of us will be back playing, and back in the Irish squad, soon."