South Shields left-back Anthony Callaghan is to undergo surgery next month as he continues his recovery from a back fracture.
Callaghan has been sidelined since playing for the Mariners against Kendal Town on Boxing Day last year.
Numerous treatment options have been explored in the last seven months, and it has been decided that spinal surgery is the best way forward for the 24-year-old.
Callaghan, who has made 49 appearances for Shields since joining from Washington in October 2016, is hoping to have recovered in time to compete for a place in the team during the Christmas period.
He is currently on a pre-operation programme with club physio Andrew Morris in a bid to aid the recovery process.
The full-back is confident that when he does return to the pitch, he will be fitter and stronger than ever before.
He said: “I’m hoping to be back between three and four months after the operation if all goes well with the rehab.
“I want to compete for my place again.
“I’m a young, fit lad and I tend to pick up fitness quite easily, which should help the recovery process.
“If I do make it back near Christmas, that could be a great time for the team when there are lots of games.
“Then it’ll be up to me to do everything I can to get back in the team.”
Callaghan was a key player for Shields during the first half of last season, and played an important role in the club’s run to the final qualifying round of the FA Cup.
His form leading up to the injury has made his time on the sidelines all the more difficult to accept.
He added: “Before I picked up the injury, I was in the team and playing really well.
“That is what has made this all the more disappointing and frustrating.
“I had been playing in all the big games, and to go from being on such a high to rock bottom has been tough to deal with.
“It has been a long process of exploring every option for recovery, because surgery is seen as the last option.
“Every other option has been explored to try to avoid it, but it needs to be done.
“I just need to get my head down. I can’t wait to get the surgery done, because there will be goals for me to hit after that.”
Callaghan has been a regular at games and training sessions throughout his time on the treatment table.
He is eager to get back on the pitch alongside his team-mates.
He said: “It’s frustrating seeing all the other lads training hard and playing in pre-season when I’ve got to watch from the sidelines.
“I’ll be even more motivated when I come back because of this experience.
“I’ll flog myself and get as fit as I’ve ever been. I’ll be fitter and stronger than I’ve been before.
“I’ve been reassured that once I’ve had the operation, there shouldn’t be any setbacks.”
Callaghan will continue to work with Morris as his comeback is stepped up.
He has paid tribute to the physio, as well as joint managers Graham Fenton and Lee Picton, for the support they have given him during his lay-off.
He added: “Andy Morris has been brilliant.
“He has supported me so much throughout the process and I’m working really closely with him now ahead of the operation, and will continue to do so afterwards.
“Lee and Graham have been brilliant too and have made sure I’ve been kept involved with all the lads.
“I just can’t wait to be back out there.”
Lee Picton has confirmed South Shields left-back Anthony Callaghan is likely to miss the rest of the season with a back injury.
The 23-year-old has not played since the 1-1 draw at Kendal Town on Boxing Day, having first suffered a back problem in November.
It has now been confirmed that Callaghan has sustained a stress fracture, which could rule him out for the rest of the campaign.
Callaghan – who has made 23 appearances this season – was one of a host of players to miss out on Saturday’s game against Skelmersdale United through injury.
Joint manager Picton has given an update on the injury situation at Mariners Park.
He said: “The injury situation has become almost ridiculous.
“We unfortunately lost Darren Lough on the morning of Saturday’s game. He had been struggling since Tuesday with a little bit of a tight calf, and it still wasn’t right.
“Barrie Smith tweaked his hamstring again in training this week. We’re trying to wrap the lads in cotton wool and it doesn’t seem to be working.
“Carl Finnigan is still not ready yet, and neither is Gavin Cogdon.
“We had the really unfortunate news this week that it’s looking like Anthony Callaghan is going to be out for the remainder of the season, which is a massive blow to us.
“We’re having to juggle a lot of unfortunate injuries at the moment.
“Myself and Graham might have to do some work in looking at bringing in one or two extra bodies in this week. We’ll have to wait and see.”
South Shields progressed into the semi-finals of the Durham Challenge Cup after producing an excellent display to see off a youthful Hartlepool United side at Mariners Park.
Goals from Jon Shaw, Anthony Callaghan and Robert Briggs sealed a 3-0 success for the Mariners.
It is now 15 wins in a row for Shields, who remain in contention in four competitions.
They were up against a Pools team featuring first-team players Nicky Deverdics and Jordan Richards.
Shields, meanwhile, showed three changes from the team which beat Team Solent 5-2 in the FA Vase on Saturday, with former Ashington captain Darren Lough among those coming in as he made his debut.
Pools started decently, and played some good football in the early stages as they aimed to make an impression in front of a crowd of 704.
However, Shields could so easily have gone in front on six minutes when a good effort from Lough went just wide.
Kenton Richardson and Deverdics both had decent attempts from distance for the visitors, but it was the Mariners who seized control.
Michael Richardson curled a shot not far wide, while he created an even better chance for Alex Nicholson, who fired over from a good position.
The opener eventually came in the 22nd minute when Richardson delivered an inch-perfect cross from the right, and Shaw – moved up-front by Shields for the game – nodded into the bottom corner.
Shaw had two great opportunities to make it 2-0 before half-time, but first hit an effort over and later was denied by a good save from Pools stopper Ryan Catterick.
Catterick had a good game for Hartlepool, and did well to tip an effort from Nicholson around the post four minutes prior to the break.
He was beaten by Wayne Phillips soon after, but his curler also just cleared the crossbar.
In the second half, Shields picked up where they left off, and scored their second in some style on 51 minutes.
They attacked with pace and purpose, and when the ball was played in front of Callaghan on the outside-left of the box, he hammered it in off the crossbar to grab his first goal for the club.
A further boost for the Mariners came when Louis Storey was introduced with over half an hour left, as he made his first senior appearance since September after recovering from a broken leg.
The home support was delighted again when Briggs arrowed in a terrific free-kick off the bar on the hour mark to all but seal Shields’ progress into the last four.
They could have won by more, but Catterick was equal to a low Briggs shot from just inside the box as he palmed it round the post.
He also held onto an effort from Dillon Morse in the closing stages.
Eventually, though, Shields seemed to settle for 3-0, and could have conceded at the other end, but Pools substitute Jack Blackford saw his effort go not far wide.
The Mariners now await next week’s semi-final draw, but of more pressing concern is a return to Northern League Division One action on Saturday, when they take on West Auckland Town at Mariners Park.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter, Callaghan, Briggs, Morse, Lough (Storey 56), Nicholson, Smith, Shaw (c) (Ramsey 52), Richardson, Phillips (Holden 66). Subs not used: Parkin, Arca.
Goals: Shaw (22), Callaghan (51), Briggs (60).
HARTLEPOOL UNITED: Catterick, Richardson, Pollock, Assenso, Martin, Elliott, Hawkes, Deverdics, Richards, Orrell (Blackford 64), Rodney. Subs not used: Dudzinski, Turnbull, Fielding, Skidmore.
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Peter Talbot.