JETS striker Roy O’Donovan has delivered an ominous warning to Newcastle’s rivals on the eve of his eagerly awaited comeback game: “I haven’t forgotten how to play football in the time that I’ve been out.”
O’Donovan is set to return in Saturday night’s clash with Melbourne Victory at McDonald Jones Stadium after missing eight games with a groin injury he suffered playing against Perth in round 10.
The Irish import was initially expected to be sidelined for 12 weeks but has worked tirelessly with Newcastle’s medical staff to return well ahead of schedule.
“It’s been a long time. I can’t wait to get back out there, to be quite honest with you, whatever role I do have to play this weekend,” O’Donovan told the Newcastle Herald. “It’s a big game, at home to Victory.
“Hopefully it’s a good crowd and atmosphere and it’s going to be a great occasion for myself just to step back on a football pitch.
“I’m raring to go, I’m excited, and I’m sure I haven’t forgotten how to play football in the time that I’ve been out.”
O’Donovan said he was happy to slot in wherever coach Ernie Merrick felt he was best suited, acknowledging that it might “take a little while” to regain full form and match fitness.
“Luckily enough we have this game this weekend, and then an international break for two weeks, which gives me a bit more time to get training into my legs,” he said.
“I can’t put a time frame on it, but you’d imagine it might take a few games to be back to 100 per cent sharp and firing again.
“But the plan has always been to be ready and raring to go for the finals series, and that’s still the plan.
“But even before then, I want to make as much of an impact as I can on this season and help the team, because they’ve been going so well.”
A prized off-season signing from Central Coast, O’Donovan scored seven goals in his first five games for Newcastle, including a hat-trick on debut against his former club.
Before his injury, the 32-year-old was starting to form a potent combination with the likes of marquee import Ronny Vargas, Dimi Petratos and Andrew Nabbout.
In a matter of weeks, Vargas will return from a broken leg, and Newcastle have also bolstered their strike force with the addition of Argentine winger Pato Rodriguez.
“That’s the exciting thing about the players we’ve got here at the Jets this season,” he said. “There’s not only a great bunch of lads and great team morale, but everyone brings quality.
“We’ve got a really strong attacking unit, and it’s going to be interesting to see the combinations and dynamics we can create.
“Whether it’s pace and power, goalscoring, a bit of individual skill and brilliance, we’ve got a little bit of everything. It bodes well for Newcastle Jets and I can’t wait to combine with those lads, scoring goals and creating goals.”
In his third A-League season, O’Donovan is impatiently awaiting his first appearance in the finals. With nine games to play, Newcastle are outright second by four points and on track to host a play-off at home.
“It’s exciting from a supporters’ point of view, and it leaves things wide open about who can win the grand final,” O’Donovan said of the top-six post-season.
“No matter who wins the league [minor premiership] season, it’s all about who wins the grand final. That’s good for everybody in the top six, because they all have an opportunity to win some silverware. That’s a great environment to play in and I’m looking forward to it.”
He paid tribute to Newcastle’s medical staff – Dr Neil Halpin, physio Justin Dougherty and strength-and-conditioning coach Chris Smith – for overseeing his recovery.
“I was with Justin probably two or three times a day, and with Chris probably twice a day, either in the gym or on the field, trying to get the groin right and keep my fitness levels up,” he said.
“It’s been a long process. But credit to our medical department, they’ve done the hard yards with me. That’s why I’ve been able to get back so quickly.”
* The Jets announced on Thursday that their longest-serving player, home-grown midfielder Ben Kantarovski, has re-signed for two seasons.