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McCarthy setting his sights on Palace survival

IN THE 21 months that he spent without playing a single game of football due to injury, there were some dark days.

At one stage, Paddy McCarthy wasn't even thinking of how his football career would pan out, but he was wondering how his life would be affected, with a mysterious infection that left him low, struggling to perform the basic tasks of life.

"There was a stage when I couldn't even get off the couch, for weeks on end. I couldn't cough or sneeze without being in excruciating pain. I struggled to walk, I struggled to pick up my kids," he admits.

Now, things are looking very bright for the 30-year-old. McCarthy made his comeback from injury for Crystal Palace last weekend in the FA Cup defeat to Wigan, the first game in almost two years for the Dublin-born club captain. He played in Tuesday's league win over Hull and the plan is to get more games in before the end of the season.

"Twenty-one months, that's how long I was out for and people can't imagine how frustrating that is, but I believe that these things are there to test you," McCarthy told the Herald this week.

"In all that time I was out, I tried to keep my head up, keep working hard and keep looking for answers, all the time hoping that I would get to play a match again and I got to do that on Saturday.

"The fact that we won promotion last season and we're in the Premier League this season made me even more enthusiastic and determined to get back.

FRUSTRATING

"It has been a very, very frustrating time so to get back out on the pitch, out with the lads again to play a competitive game again, was good for me.

"The result on Saturday didn't go our way and we went out of the Cup, but, on a personal level, I was just so pleased to be playing again and I was very pleased to get that reaction from the Palace fans on Saturday, that meant a lot to me," says McCarthy, who has made almost 150 appearances for the Eagles and was retained as club captain during his absence.

At times, McCarthy did fear for the future.

"There were stages, especially at the start of the illness, where I was worried," he says.

"I actually forgot about football at one stage because I feared there was something more sinister going on. When you are just stuck on the couch for weeks upon weeks, your mind does wander, and I did fear for my career, it was a massive worry.

"In fact, my football career was the last thing on my mind, I was worried about things long-term. But I got the best of care possible, the club really looked after me and once I could see the end in sight, I worked towards that."

The hope for McCarthy, who joined Palace in 2008 after spells with Manchester City, Leicester and Charlton, is that those health problems are behind him.

"I have done all I can do, I have seen all the experts throughout Europe, I have explored all avenues and I have been given the all-clear, so, please God, that's me done with injury for the rest of my career, hopefully I can stay injury-free."

The summer of 2012 is when things started to go wrong for McCarthy. Established in the Palace side from the previous season under manager Dougie Freedman, matters took a serious turn in pre-season.

"I had an injection to try and cure an injury, but a few days after the injection I had a very bad reaction," he recalls.

REACTION

"My whole pelvic area, the pubic bone, everywhere was full of swelling, there was bone bruising. It was a really nasty reaction to the injection and that just knocked me back.

"It took a long time to find out what was wrong. Then I had an operation last December, but it was hard to complete the rehab from that as my whole body was still suffering a reaction, every time I tried to come back, I would get these niggles, the muscles would react."

But I have been back for a while now. I have played a few games for the development squad, I managed 80 minutes for the reserves last Monday and 90 minutes for the first team in the FA Cup game, so I am feeling good now, I trained this week with no reaction, so hopefully I can stay clear of injury now."

The issue for McCarthy now will be to try and force his way into the Palace side, a hard task as centre-halves Damien Delaney and Danny Gabbidon are performing well, with last Tuesday's win over Hull lifting the Eagles to 14th in the Premier League table.

"I want to stay here at Palace, but it won't be easy with the form that the lads in defence are in," admits McCarthy, who was promoted to the senior Ireland squad by Brian Kerr in 2005.

"We have a good few games between now and the end of the season, but I am not setting myself targets or getting carried away, and my contract isn't up at the end of the season, so I won't look too far ahead. My first target was just to get fit again and play 90 minutes, so for me to do that on Saturday was massive for me psychologically.

"Now, I will take each day as it comes. I have loved it here at Palace, hopefully we can stay up this season and enjoy another year in the Premier League."


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