Socceroos goalkeeper Danny Vukovic has ended a year of living on a wing and a prayer by playing again for his Belgian club KRC Genk during the week.
It was almost 12 months to the day since Vukovic ruptured an Achilles tendon at the gym before training. He was operated upon immediately, just one match into the championship campaign that was eventually cut short due to COVID-19.
Vukovic was out for the season and also missed out on realising his dream of playing in the UEFA Champions League after he had played a key role in Genk's championship victory in 2018-19.
Vukovic came on as a substitute in a pre-season trial against Union Saint-Gilloise which Genk won 3-1, raising his hopes of regaining his position as the club's regular goalkeeper when the new season kicks off in August.
"I played 45 minutes and it was great to play again," said Vukovic. "I came on in the second half and I felt really good. I was happy with my overall performance ... a few good saves, good distribution ... something to build on."
"It's been so long since I felt that excitement of playing.
"I was frustrated, of course, during rehab. I don't like to miss any games and the time out of the game was definitely magnified by missing the big occasions."
Vukovic can now put the mishap behind him but he is fully aware that he faces stiff competition to regain his spot between the sticks.
It is not the first time Vukovic's career has been affected by injuries and the Sydneysider was never going to let the freak accident and long lay-off put him in a negative frame of mind.
"To be honest, my position at the club was not something I thought about," he said.
"I was just focused on my rehab and getting back onto the pitch. I was prepared to miss the season and my plan was to be ready for the upcoming campaign.
"I have some competition for the spot though from a few young keepers.
"I'm unsure who will play at this point but I am making sure I'm prepared if called upon."
Vukovic's brave and lonely fight for recovery was buoyed by the constant support from fellow players and friends.
Text messages from all over the world played a big part in keeping his spirit up during hundreds of hours of rehabilitation.
"Yeah, I think I had messages from most of the Socceroos boys and former teammates from around the A-League," he said.
"It's nice when you're at a low point that people reach out and see how you're going. A simple message goes a long way. I certainly appreciated them."
Genk's first league match is away to Oostende on August 9.