Lincoln City's Conal Platt tells of physical and mental recovery from broken leg
Lincoln City winger Conal Platt explains to John Pakey how his recovery from a broken leg has not just been a physical challenge, but a mental one too...
Sitting on the weights bench counting out another rep under the strip lights, Conal Platt is a world away from the fresh air of a football pitch.
Platt's life for the last seven months has been cramped into a small room with a low ceiling and a muddle of weights, fitness bikes and rowing machines.
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As he sits looking out of the door, his team-mates walk past, ready to get on with another day of training in a bid to impress and get themselves on the team-sheet for Saturday.
The broken leg he sustained in a behind closed doors friendly last February at Doncaster Rovers is only visible by a bump and the scars from surgery, but the impact is far more than physical.
"I really want to get back in training. I want to get back on the pitch. I miss it a lot. I miss the fans cheering you on. I miss creating a chance or scoring a goal, I even miss the gaffer, David Holdsworth, shouting a few choice words at me from the dugout," said Platt.
"Through Monday to Friday you get on with it. You keep doing the training and working on your fitness.
"It is Saturday when the boys are on the pitch and you are in the stand that it really hits home. That can be hard, that's when it gets to me.
"It plays on your mind. I can lay there at night thinking about how much I want to be back playing a game.
"When something is taken away from you, you want it more.
"You sometimes forget and take for granted how much you enjoy it."
It is a sombre moment in what has otherwise been an upbeat interview with Platt.
Upon meeting at Sincil Bank early on a Friday the banter and jokes among the players is flying.
The Echo's photographer is trying to get him to pose with a serious face, but a quip from Alan Power in the doorway of the gym sees him crack into a laugh and smile.
You can see he is looking forward rather than back and he is comfortable to talk in a matter of fact manner about what happened.
"I remember the incident quite well," said 26-year-old winger.
"The ball came over my right shoulder and it was a 50-50 ball between me and the full-back and I dangled my leg out to try and get it – which was silly. Every manager I've ever worked with has always warned me about doing that.
"The full back clattered into my leg and I knew I had broken it straight away, but funnily, when I heard the crack my instinct was that the shin pads had crashed together.
"However, I knew it didn't feel right and I could tell it was broken. For about five seconds there was no pain – then it hit and it was clear what had happened."
Platt had broken his tibia and fractured his fibula in his left leg.
The verdict from the specialist he saw soon after, was blunt. It could take up to a year to heal.
For Platt, though, that honesty was vital in making sure he would win the mental side of his battle back to fitness.
"They were very realistic with me about the time-table and that helped, as I had to get my head round it as soon as I could," he said.
"If I want to be a bit brutal, breaking it around the February time was probably the best thing that could happen.
"I would only miss the end of the season and then I would have two months in the summer to help recover.
"If it had happened in the August then my entire season would have been written off. You have to be positive in whatever way you can."
Accepting the diagnosis was one thing, but living with it was another.
Thankfully, time at Lilleshall Sports Injury Rehabilitation Centre was a big stepping stone.
"Lilleshall was a great place to go. You are there Monday through to Thursday and you stay overnight," he said.
"It was great being with a group of lads who are also in football and know what you are going through.
"When I arrived, there was a player from Carlisle, Rory Loy who had done exactly the same injury as me, it was the same part of the leg, the same break and pretty much the same circumstances.
"He was a few months down the road from where I was and speaking to him was a big confidence boost.
"At that point I was struggling to walk and put pressure on it, I felt that there was no way back.
"However, he told me he was the same when it happened to him.
"It gave me a bit of a lift, knowing that there was a way forward and I just had to keep up the work."
Getting through the recovery has not been easy for Platt, who admits to having bad days when he can be in a "grumpy mood".
However, kicking him out of those lows has been a big support network, from hands-on work with physiotherapists, to friends and family.
He cannot thank people enough for what they have done.
"Having all this support around me along the way has been vital. My family and friends have been brilliant," he said.
"When I broke my leg I was shipped off to Doncaster hospital.
"That evening, two of my friends from Preston had driven across the country to see me.
"My parents were there when I came out of hospital to help me home. I've got good friends and family and it makes a big difference.
"The gaffer has also been great. He had me in the office and he talked about his own injuries.
"He's had a few hard ones and been through a lot himself. We stood there and compared scars – it was good because he was able to understand how I was feeling.
"He has been great because he has not put a deadline on my recovery, he's not put me under any undue pressure, he has just motivated and encouraged me along.
"The atmosphere is good here. We say it all the time, but it is true, there are some good boys here and the banter is always flying.
"It can be ruthless at times but that is ideal for me, that's my personality.
"I'm always upbeat and want to play with a smile on my face. I feel there is never a point in sulking and getting wound up.
"I do have my bad days, though. I come in and I'm behind the scenes.
"The lads can see I'm in a grumpy mood as all I want to be is back training and playing. But the lads I work with, Toby and Matt, will ask after me and then get me back on track."
The confidence is clearly there, even in the face of a couple of setbacks.
But careful work with the club's physio Kev in Oxby and support from two University of Lincoln sport science graduates in Matthew Page and Toby Ellis means Platt has overcome any issues.
"We take it all week by week," said Platt. "Kevin Oxby has put me through my paces.
"He took me to a boxercise class the other week and by the end of it I was blowing, he really is putting me through it. However, we're making progress and I've just got to stick to it.
"I'm not worried about returning and getting on the pitch.
"I've spoken to the specialists and the lads who have broken their legs and they were telling me how it heals stronger than it was.
"I will not be afraid to get into a tackle when I return, I just want to get back out there."