After almost a year lost to injury, John Mountney is determined to make up for lost time over the coming weeks.
It was on this weekend last year that the Mayo man suffered an anterior cruciate knee ligament injury while playing for St Patrick’s Athletic against Dundalk at Oriel Park.
The injury, which occurred early in the second half of what was a 4-1 win for Stephen O’Donnell’s side, immediately ended Mountney’s season.
Despite that setback, O’Donnell showed immense faith in his former team-mate by bringing him back to Oriel Park with him at the start of this season.
In spite of hopes at the time that Mountney would be back sooner rather than later, it took until the 3-0 win over Finn Harps on July 22 for him to feature for the first-team for the first time this season.
He followed up that appearance with another off the bench for the closing 20 minutes of Dundalk’s 4-0 FAI Cup win over Longford Town on Friday night.
Now, 12 months on from the worst injury of his career, the 29-year-old is pushing to play more as his adopted home town battle for points in the league and further progression in the Cup over the coming weeks.
“It feels great to be back,” he told The Argus after the victory over Longford.
“Like that, it felt like it had been a long time coming. Over the last couple of months I've been itching to get going but obviously there were still a few boxes to be ticked in terms of getting minutes into the legs, which I did behind closed doors and with the 19s. The reward for that now is being back in with the group and getting minutes again.”
Having been part of a squad in every FAI Cup final since 2015, winning four, Mountney would love to be back at the Aviva Stadium this November.
While he picked up a winners’ medal for St Pat’s last season having featured in the 6-0 opening round win over Bray Wanderers, he admits it didn’t feel as good having been forced to watch on from the sidelines as his side pipped Bohemians to the Cup on penalties.
“No it wasn't the same, of course not,” said Mountney.
“It's like anything, even if you're available all year for the Cup and get to the final and you're not available for the Cup final it still doesn't feel the same even though you're delighted to be part of a winning group. It didn't feel the same though when you're not involved.”
While the five-time league winner had hoped to be back in action long before now, he admits he is feeling back to himself after a difficult year.
“Of course, when you have a long injury you're always setting yourself targets and dates and you're of course always trying to get back as quick as you can.
“Sometimes it doesn't go to plan like that. It was a bit longer than I had hoped for but right now the body feels good and the knee feels good so I'm feeling back to full strength again.”
Having made a couple of cameo appearances in games that were already pretty much wrapped up, Mountney now feels ready to make a big contribution.
This Friday, Derry City are the visitors to Oriel Park – a side Mountney has always liked facing having scored five of his 30 goals for Dundalk against the Candystripes.
Would he be reminding O’Donnell of that this week?
“I'll let him know now,” he laughed.
“Can you play back the interview to him?”
Joking aside, Mountney knows it will be a tough match against Ruaidhrí Higgins’ side but is hopeful Dundalk can make it an intimidating atmosphere for a Derry team which could include five former Lilywhites, including the recently departed Mark Connolly.
“There'll definitely be a bit of bite between all of that but our home games have been hopping in general,” said the 29-year-old.
“I know tonight was a bit quieter being a Cup game but overall our games have been rocking and the Shed and the stand really get behind us. I'm sure that'll be the same on Friday and that there will be plenty there to spur us on.
“Derry are doing very well as well. Obviously everyone knows Ruaidhrí Higgins up there. He has recruited a very good side and they're obviously title contenders as well so it's going to be a cracking game here on Friday and we're all looking forward to it.”
The form of Lewis Macari means that the Mayo man is far from a shoo-in to re-take his new favoured position at right-back but he welcomes the competition the on-loan Stoke City man is giving him.
“Lewis has been excellent since he has come in,” said John.
“He has been very good and very consistent. That's my challenge now that if I do get the call or I do get in, we both have different attributes and we can both bring different qualities to the team but that's the same everywhere around the pitch.
“If you look at every position, there are strengths in every position. If someone is not able to play or someone else gets called in there's no real change to the quality of the starting 11 because we've a very strong squad.”
An extra element for Mountney to savour on Friday is the fact that, should he feature, it will be his 200th league appearance for Dundalk. He would also overtake David Crawley to move into 12th place in the club’s all-time appearance list.
“I wasn't sure of the stats but that's good,” he smiled.
“I think everyone knows that I've always been proud to play for Dundalk and like that I'm proud again to have come back. Right now, I'm just happy to be available again so I can help out the team wherever I can in the run-in.
“It's the time of the year where everyone wants to be playing. The standard of training always goes up levels towards the end and everyone is always itching to be in the starting 11. It's an exciting time to be at the club again,” he said.