Fergus Neil knows all about debilitating injuries but this time it was threateningly different for the Napier City Rovers player.

For Neil, it was the uncertainty surrounding the time he was going to have spend off the park after picking up a knee injury with Thirsty Whale Hawke's Bay United in the summer of 2016-17 that went on to rob him of more than 20 months at the peak of his career, including the entire last season for his beloved Blues in the Ultra Football Central League.

It's the kind of injury that leaves blokes like him becoming familiar with their anatomy in biology book-like fashion, akin to a mechanic who doesn't need to reach for the vehicle's instruction manual in the glove compartment.

"It was a knee injury, the cartilage underneath my patella," says the 27-year-old rightback who had surgery for it last year but will maintain a 100 per cent appearance for the Thirsty Whale-sponsored Blues this season when they kick off at 2pm against Stop Out Sports Club in Napier in round three tomorrow.


The recovery phase had felt like waiting for the referee to blow the final whistle with the opposition raiding the goalmouth and coming precariously close to denying the potential victors of three points.

"It just took that long to recover," he explains, revealing he had tried to run it off but in July 2017 it became obvious it was counterproductive.

"I just couldn't run for a long time as much as I had wanted to."

Listening to voices in his head while trying to exorcise the injury demons is something he doesn't wish on anyone.

"It's probably the worst thing about it," says Neil. "When I thought it was going to get better, it never did because even walking up and down the stairs became quite tricky at times."

Frustratingly he put himself in the cross examination box to ponder if that was the end of his mobility, as he knew it, never mind playing again.

The knee niggle, if you like, even eclipsed the horrific broken jaw Neil had picked up with Bay United in November 2013 that left him sipping fruit smoothies and protein shakes with a straw. In 2008 he also had torn the ligament in his right knee.

"They were two different injuries, actually," he says. "A broken jaw — it sounds a bit nasty and it kind of was — was really a quick recovery.


"I lost a lot of weight because I couldn't eat but, really, I only missed five or six weeks of football but this time it was about 600 days with a niggly knee injury."

Nevertheless, Neil frequented the gym to exercise his upper torso while resting his knee this time.

"Gradually I was able to use my legs again, getting back on the bike in the gym and on the cross trainer at times and then slowly on to the treadmill for some strengthening through my legs."

With that sort of rehabilitation, it requires no interpretation to gauge how Neil feels to be back at Bluewater Stadium, Park Island, even though he's made way for a substitute around the 75-minute mark.

"Actually I've been thinking about it for such a long time so it's so refreshing to get back out there, as unfit as I am."

He salutes Jamie Wilkinson for coming in for him to see the matches through for two victories for the Bill Robertson-coached defending champions who are unbeaten and in third place.


Fourth-placed Stop Out, he says, are always physical and tend to stack their midfield in going for the jugular.

"They'll be pretty keen to get straight into our faces, I guess, you could say because they don't leave anything out there on the field," says the Porritt School teacher who graduated from the Eastern Institute of Technology yesterday. "They're a very physical side."

Neil says while the Blues have an unblemished start to their campaign he doesn't believe they have played to their potential yet.

"We've still got a lot to learn and the good thing is we can sat that and we've still got two wins under our belt so we're in a good place at the moment and still make moves."

He isn't fussed about the weather forecast but welcomes a little bit of drizzle on a park that still has an aridity about it.

Napier City Rovers captain Fergus Neil is a teacher at Porritt School in Napier. Photo/supplied
Napier City Rovers captain Fergus Neil is a teacher at Porritt School in Napier. Photo/supplied