'It was emotional' - returning Hibs star wowed by team-mates' show of support
Behind close doors, emotions ran high. In the away dressing room at the Caldeonian Stadium, Chris Cadden got just a little choked up as his team-mates stood to applaud a significant milestone in his footballing career.
The ovation was in recognition not of his efforts in about eight minutes at the end of a Scottish Cup fifth round tie, but his determination to be back on the field after eight months spent recovering from surgery on a ruptured Achilles’ tendon. It was well deserved.
Cadden, who was stretchered off the Easter Road pitch in the final game of last season, a 1-1 draw with Hearts, has been through a lot just to reach this point. From being unable to shuffle between living room and kitchen, to long rehab sessions and even longer journeys to visit a renowned specialist, post-surgery anxiety to dark days in the treatment room at East Mains, there was a lot of pent-up frustration to release on Saturday.
“It was good; a little bit emotional,” he said, when asked about receiving the acclaim of his team-mates following a comfortable 3-1 win over Inverness, the 27-year-old adding: “It’s been a long time - but the gaffer made a point of saying well done and leading a round of applause.
“I can’t thank the club enough for how they’ve been with me. From top to bottom – the manager, the boys - they have been almost as buzzing as me with every single step I’ve taken. The physio Gav Dempsey, I need to give a shout out to, Kieran Duffy (conditioning coach), those boys have been tremendous with me. They’ve been there on my bad days and good days. The gaffer making a point do to that, it was nice.”
Cadden was always made to feel part of the squad, even when he was unable to so much as visit the training ground. When he got the all-clear to do some gym work, the boys were there to greet him. When he was finally allowed just to run on the grass, his team-mates formed a guard of honour to welcome him back.
He said: “Of course, there are dark days, but those boys get you through. It was more that every step was big for me – getting out of my boot, starting to learn how to walk again, then getting on the pitch and seeing how buzzing they all were for me.
“The day after that, everybody came up to me and said well done. It means the world to me. It’s like a family in there, we really are all very close. They’ve got me through it. They saw me when I was down and picked me up. It’s nice how appreciative they all were.”
Recalling just how debilitating the injury was, Cadden said: “The worst moment was in the boot. Those first few weeks were a really tough time, stuck in the house, foot up, and can’t move or walk.
“I’m an active guy but I couldn’t even make myself a cup of coffee. I was relying on my missus to run about for me – it’s nice for the first day or so before you want to be up being independent.
“That was a tough time, feeling sorry for myself and asking: ‘Why did this happen to me?.’ You’ve just got to get on with it, and work as hard as you possibly can to get back where you were. Hopefully I start reaping the benefits of that work.
“This is a real high. I was still nervous even though the game was almost done – my heart was going. You do miss the pre-match nerves and adrenaline.
“There’s been a lot of change at the club since my last game. The new manager has been great. On his second day, he pulled me and asked me how I was doing. At every single step, he’s been great with me and today was brilliant. I can’t ask for any more from him. But it is frustrating when you just want to impress and show what you can do. That’s my job now.”
Without a weekly game to focus on, Cadden had to find other targets to keep him going. Like sitting down with leading specialist Seth O’Neill for the make-or-break news back in December. When the Evening News caught up with him on the drive back from that meeting in Leicester, the positive verdict he’d just received made him sound like a kid at Christmas.
Asked if he would miss those journeys south, Cadden laughed and said: “No, no, no! The train got cancelled that day and it was six hours drive down, and six hours back. That’s the kind of thing the physio did for me just to make sure I got to see the specialist. I can’t thank him enough.
“That was one of the good moments when they said everything was healing well because you never know after surgery. He was really happy with it and that gave me the confidence to kick on.
“I know my return still has to be managed, and that’s what I need to remember, because I’ll just want to go and play minutes now I’m back. But you have to realise you’ve been out for eight months.
“The manager has been great that way, as well, he’s not put any pressure on me. It’s not been ‘we need you back’, it’s like ‘whenever you feel ready’. Hopefully I can get more minutes and help the boys for the rest of the season.
“It’s been a long eight months, but just delighted to be back out there. It felt as good as I thought it would. The manager told me just to relax, be calm, and enjoy myself, which I what I tried to do. It’s been a really up and down eight months – I’ve been through it, and it’s great to be back.”