Niall Huggins: "The lads have been unreal supporting me"

After spending over a year going through injury turmoil, Niall Huggins completed his first-team comeback on Friday night playing his part in a resilient performance that saw the Lads beat Birmingham City. For the 21-year-old, the result and performance made the long and turbulent road to recovery worthwhile.

Since signing from Leeds United on a permanent deal last summer, Huggins’ body has gone through the pain barrier and back with numerous injuries hampering his progress with the first-team. But at St Andrews, his body was on the line to keep out a determined Blues attack and he came through the task unscathed.

“It was unbelievable. I think the last ten minutes I was just dying to hear that final whistle” Huggins told “For the first game back, it was a tough game.

“It was a well-fought game by the lads. We all got stuck in especially after we conceded the first goal, they were piling the pressure on. I thought we dealt with it well and came out with an unreal result going into the break.”

As part of his ongoing rehabilitation from numerous injuries, Huggins has featured for the Under-21’s in recent weeks but with a threadbare list of defensive options to choose from, Huggins was parachuted in ahead of schedule for the Black Cats final game ahead of the World Cup.

It could have been a shock to the system but the full-back coped with the physical demands of the task as he continued: “Absolutely buzzing to get 90 minutes. I think it’s been like 14 months since I last played 90 minutes for the first-team. It was a bit of a shock, it was a bit last minute going straight into the game but I was in to do a job.

“First half was a bit of a shock intensity wise because I’ve been playing with the younger lads for a while now but second half I got into it a bit more. I thought I did a job well to be fair.”

Huggins was bursting with pride at his comeback appearance for the club in the Midlands as it comes off the back of a succession of injuries that have tormented his early career. Both the club and player have worked tirelessly over the last year in a bid to overcome numerous setbacks in his recovery.

“It’s been really tough” he added. “It’s not been straight forward because sometimes with an injury, you know what your road to recovery looks like whereas I’ve had so many different injuries where I’ve got to the point where I’ve started running outside for a few weeks and then I would get another setback.”

However, a breakthrough was made in his rehabilitation which allowed him to build his match fitness up with the youngsters before helping Tony Mowbray’s side to a 2-1 win against Birmingham City. He explained: “It maybe happened like three or four times I was out on the grass so I could taste playing football again. For this time, we tried a different way of recovering, more of just going straight into football and taking it slower and slower. This way seems to have worked really well.”

When Huggins entered the dressing room after the game, he was greeted by an ovation from his team mates and the club’s coaching staff with Mowbray giving him a special mention for his contribution to the game.

For Huggins, the reception was symptomatic of their characters as he added: “The lads have been unreal.

“It was the first time I’ve come to a new club in my career and the last thing you want is to come and then get injured straight away. All the way through my year out, the lads have been unreal supporting me.

“Always had lads to talk to. To spur me on and keep my head up. But there is nothing like being back in training with them full-time again. To play and get a win with them today was the best feeling.”

Well played, Niall!


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