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Josh Sheehan is determined to revive his Wales career after injury destroyed his World Cup dream and provoked the “dark days” that followed.
Bolton midfielder Sheehan won his fourth Wales cap – and his first for two years – by coming on as a second-half substitute in the 0-0 friendly draw with South Korea on Thursday.
It was reward for a tough journey that began on November 17, 2021 – a date inked in Sheehan’s mind.
“An FA Cup game against Stockport, I was running down the line against their full-back and he just gave me a little nudge,” said the 28-year-old from Carmarthenshire.
“I felt something in my leg, and it just went. I went down for a second and then I carried on for five minutes, but every time I felt like turning it would give way.
“I should have come off thinking about it now. But I’m not the type of player to go down and go off, I’d rather just try and get through.”
The reality was that Sheehan had ruptured an anterior cruciate ligament and would spend nine months out of the game.
Sheehan’s return to league football at Bolton came just weeks before Wales went to Qatar for their first World Cup in 64 years and time was against him to make Rob Page’s squad.
He said: “It was a tough ask to come back and hit my peak straight away. A tough ask for any player.
“It’s disappointing because sometimes a World Cup is a once in a lifetime thing, and there are a lot of dark days when you have that sort of injury.
“A dark day would be when the boys are all out training, and you’re just watching from the side or you’re in the gym.
“Sometimes I would literally be on my own because the physio would be with someone else – and it’s such a long injury.
“There’s no rush to get back, but you still have to do everything to the top level and perfect each section coming back from the injury.
“Watching games at 3pm on Saturday in the stands knowing you can’t affect the game, that’s probably the dark days mentally.”
Sheehan said he got through the rehabilitation process with the help of family and friends – “I’ve got a little daughter and that takes your mind away from football” – and he eventually helped Bolton into the League One play-offs last season.
Kicking on this term sealed the return of the Swansea product and former Newport player to the Wales squad during a vital stage of Euro 2024 qualification.
Wales play Latvia in Riga on Monday knowing three points is essential to keep alive hopes of a top-two place in Group D.
“How I was playing before the injury, I was doing as much as I could, scoring goals at Bolton,” Sheehan said.
“It’s disappointing (what happened), but you move on and use it as motivation.
“We all know what we have to do in Latvia. We know what our game plan is, and as long as we stick to it, we know we’re good enough to win.”
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