Matthew Shiels is confident he has shaken off the ankle problem that has delayed his Hamilton Accies debut - and is now desperate to put 10 months of injury hell behind him.
The 21-year-old signed from Rangers in May on a pre-contract agreement and joined up with his new team-mates a month later, but Accies fans have yet to get a glimpse of the left-back/left midfielder.
Shiels penned a two-year deal but so far has spent much of his time on the treatment table, trying to recover from bone bruising, and he hasn't kicked a ball in competitive action since December 2020, when he was on loan at Clyde from Rangers.
However, there finally appears to be light at the end of the tunnel for the versatile youngster after he returned to full training this week - and he is eager to make up for lost time.
In an exclusive interview with Lanarkshire Live Sport , Shiels said: "It's been a while since I last played.
"I signed in May and came into the team on June 20 and a lot of my time has been spent with the physio.
"My ankle wasn't settling. I got back training and went for a scan, then they found bone bruising in my ankle so that set me back a bit.
"The past few weeks I've been getting closer to training and I've returned to training this week, so it's been good.
"I've been buzzing this week and I was delighted to get back in with the team last Monday.
"I've been out since December, so it's been a long 10 months.
"When I signed I was expecting to be back fit for June, but my ankle wasn't settling at all, no matter what we tried.
"It's dragged in and seeing the boys training every day has been tough.
"But I can't be far away now. I can't wait to get back on the pitch and hopefully make my debut in the next few weeks."
The last few years have been far from straightforward for Shiels, who spent 12 years on the books at Rangers and never managed a first team appearance.
Playing in the Ibrox reserves amid loan spells across the SPFL and as far afield as Orange County in the United States - just as Covid took hold of the world - have made it difficult to find his rhythm.
When he arrived at Accies, the former Scotland under-19 international spoke about how leaving Rangers was a step up for him, given his time was always spent among the reserves.
And he knows the only way to improve was to get out and play first team football with men and not boys.
Discussing the spell leading up to his Rangers exit, he explained: "When I was at Rangers I'd train with the reserves one day and then, when I was on loan at Clyde, I'd train with Clyde at night, then the next day train with Rangers reserves again.
"But the way that felt to me, it felt like I was going down an age group at Rangers, just because of the physicality.
"It's not men, going in hard tackling, like it was at Clyde, so it was different.
"America was a tough one because Covid was just starting then and everything was shutting down after I'd arrived there.
"The football shut down there before the UK did and it was tough being over there at that time, away from my family.
"I just decided to come back and play my football here.
"Once things started again I joined Clyde and that was really good.
"That was my favourite loan because I played near enough every minute of every game, and I got on well with Danny Lennon and the boys there.
"At Orange County I played two games and then Covid hit, so I just got on a flight back.
"I don't regret that because the football was off for a long time over there."
When he arrived at Accies, it was another ex-Ranger, in midfielder David Templeton, who took him under his wing with skipper Brian Easton and helped him settle in.
He feels at home at Accies and is desperate to kick on and impress at the highest level he has been a part of so far in his career.
"Brian Easton and David Templeton really helped when I came in," said Sheils. "They would talk away to me and stuff and it helps welcoming someone.
"On my first day I was nervous, I didn't know anyone, but that's normal.
"But I felt once I started speaking to folk I settled in.
"Scott McMann [now at Dundee United] was really good when he was here as well.
"And Kyle Munro stays out in my area in Clydebank and I've got on really well with him, but all the boys are brilliant.
"They've all really helped."
It was former Accies boss Brian Rice who brought Shiels on board last season, but the challenge now will be to win over new gaffer Stuart Taylor and earn his way into the side.
With his injury concerns fading by the day, he is growing in confidence and admits even a wee scare in training this week has helped him feel like the worst is behind him.
He revealed: "In a training game on Thursday there was an incident when I rolled my ankle and I thought: 'Oh, no.'
"But it was okay and that's given me a bit of confidence that my ankle has toughened up.
"It's always going to be in the back of my head a bit, but I'm starting to not think about it as much and training every day gives me confidence that things are alright.
"I've not had any problems with it the last few months.
"It feels good, it feels normal again and hopefully I can kick on this season."
Accies host Ayr United in the Championship tomorrow, but it looks set to come too soon for Shiels to make his debut.
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