Sitting at home with the four walls closing in and only his dog Roman for company, Liam Fontaine admits he began to go “stir crazy” after being hit by a second serious injury in the space of just seven months.
The Hibs defender had barely recovered from his first setback, a ligament being torn from the bone in his right ankle, when he suffered exactly the same injury in his left.
Even the specialist who operated both times was left shaking his head in disbelief at the long odds against what had happened.
But while admitting that for a week after sustaining the second tear he “had a bad time”, Fontaine revealed his love of music and with Roman at his side, he quickly banished those demons and set his mind solely on fighting back to full fitness.
Initially injured during a Championship match with Dunfermline in February, Fontaine had made only two Betfred Cup appearances at the beginning of this season when he was again struck down, this time playing in a development league match against Aberdeen at Brechin City’s Glebe Park at the beginning of September.
He said: “It was exactly the same and required the same surgery. I spoke with my specialist quite a lot about it and he said the chances of getting two exactly the same in that short space of time is incredible.
“I’d done all the pre-season, played a couple of Betfred Cup games having recovered from the first one only to have it happen again in the other ankle. It was such an innocuous thing, not even a proper tackle.
“I wasn’t involved in the initial tackle but their boy ended up falling on me, my leg was at the wrong angle at the wrong time, it was just bad luck.”
At the time Fontaine didn’t appreciate the severity of the problem, the 31-year-old having the bad news broken to him following a scan. He said: “The physio rang to let me know, it was a hell of a call to take. It was pretty hard, but you can go one way or the other.
“The first full week I had a bit of a bad time, but you have to deal with it and come back stronger, every little setback is a lesson in your life.”
While there was no real rush to return from the first injury – the recovery time meant it had effectively ended his season – Fontaine was determined to make as speedy a return as possible second time round, revealing today that he is ahead of schedule and ready to play if boss Neil Lennon gives him the call.
“At first it is hard,” he admitted. “You are restricted quite a lot. I had the first ten days off but I was stuck in the house. I was on crutches because you can’t put any weight on it for a while. I went a bit stir crazy being in the house so I came back to East Mains quite quickly, I just wanted to be around everyone because I was sitting at home with no-one there just looking at the same four walls. Roman, a Red Fox Labrador, was keeping me company. It was quite funny, he could genuinely tell I was struggling so he just sat beside me and chilled.”
His enforced absence also allowed Fontaine to enjoy his love of music, the big defender having penned a song “Coming Straight Out of Leith” which met with the approval of Easter Road fans. Joking he now possibly has enough music for an EP rather than a full album, he said: “It’s my go to if I am ever in a bad place or anything like that. I take my guitar go into another room and strum away. It’s quite weird you can let your mind drift off into different places and start jotting down words.
“I’ve come up with some stuff which in my opinion is quite good. Others might think it is rubbish, but at the end of the day it helps me – and Roman likes it.”
While his music offered a sense of escapism at times, Fontaine’s focus was purely on recovering and forcing his way back into Lennon’s thoughts.
He said: “I look after myself off the pitch so during the rehab I have been working on loads of other stuff, working on different areas of my body and strengthening them. Even the mental side you can work on.
“You try to set yourself little targets when you are out injured and you can always improve in other areas when you are restricted on the football side of things so I have managed to do that and I am coming back in quite good condition considering the time it has been.
“I have had to deal with it and thankfully I am over it. You can go one of two ways when you are injured, you can let it beat you and become negative. Or you try to focus on your return date, the smaller goals of a couple of weeks at a time. You can be comfortable in being injured or wanting to get back – and I wanted to get back.
“Life is about learning and it’s definitely made me learn things, it’s what the world throws at you at times and you have to deal with them. I’ve also been working towards my UEFA B Licence so I’ve been watching a lot of football as you can learn a lot more watching than when you are actually playing.
“I’ve watched the team and probably more football on TV than usual, possibly because I have missed it so much being out so long.
“Anyone who plays any sport will tell you when you are unable to do it there’s a void to fill. It’s not been a great year for me personally but it has been a good year in the sense we got back up to the Premiership where we should be and the boys have been going so well. And the vibe here is great to be around, it’s so positive.”