Football may be widely known as the beautiful game, but it can also be a cruel one, as 20-year-old Daniel Stynes has discovered first-hand.
The attacking midfielder made his long-awaited return to Glory action in the Foxtel Y-League against Melbourne City last weekend, following four months on the sidelines after rupturing ligaments in his ankle.
While such an injury is hard enough to swallow in any context, the fact that it occurred during Stynes’ starting debut for the club against the reigning Hyundai A-League Champions Melbourne Victory in front of his friends and family in the FFA Cup made it even tougher.
“After injuries last year, working hard at training and in the gym to get myself back and earn an opportunity which I didn’t think would be there, it was huge,” Stynes reflected.
“To make my starting debut for the club was special; it was a massive personal achievement for me against such a big club.”
Stynes looked comfortable among the seasoned professionals, but his game came to a sudden end right before half-time following a sliding challenge from Socceroos defender Thomas Deng.
“I thought I’d just been kicked really, really badly and that it was purely a contact knock that I could just walk off,” he recalled.
“I played the next two minutes, but I was hobbling, then I realised I couldn’t put any weight on it. I still didn’t think it was going to be anything as serious as it was.
“I was devastated after the game when I knew it was another injury, absolutely devastated. It just seemed at that point that nothing was going to go my way.”
The match was supposed to be a celebration for Stynes, marking as it did his return to competitive action for the first time since sustaining multiple hamstring injury setbacks the previous season.
But it instead ended in agony.
“We played Tuesday and I got the scan on Wednesday, so on Wednesday night when I found out I was honestly in tears,” he revealed.
“Then I got a call from Popa and he really comforted me, explaining that this is football, but more importantly that’s life. Moments like these come at the worse times, you can’t wallow in your own pity as such, so I think that’s what I needed to hear to motivate me.”
Having spoken with the former Youth Team Captain during his rehab last season in April, one thing became very evident; this is a player who refuses to give up.
Throughout the setbacks so early in his fledgling career, Stynes has always remained positive, which he swiftly credits to the people around him at the club.
“I’m with a really good group of boys,” he said. “They’re so supportive and the entire medical staff were top-notch throughout my whole rehab. I can’t thank them enough.
“I think now having the confidence and understanding that I know I can get through these obstacles is the big lesson from it all and will hold me in good stead throughout my career. With my hamstring, I was out for four to five months and I was out for four months with this, so I know how to handle the process.”
Stynes certainly wasn’t alone in the Glory gym in recent months, with Asian Cup-winning defender Matthew Spiranovic working back to fitness alongside the youngster.
“It was a great experience to work so closely with him through that period,” he said. “I learned a lot about him and his decorated career and he actually told me had the same injury around the same age as me when he was in Germany, so it was good to have his perspective on it.
“We were following the same timeline of rehab, so we were in the gym together a lot and did a lot of sessions on the pitch by ourselves away from the main group with the physio Ian (Austin), who has been fantastic throughout the whole process.”
It’s those isolated sessions in the gym that Stynes notes as the harsh reality of injury. Hours upon hours working away on the weights and muscle exercises instead of kicking the ball around with the boys is where the mental toughness is truly tested and forged.
“You do learn a lot about yourself in those moments,” he said, “because it makes you realise and think about how badly you want this. To be halted so early in my career has been really tough, but it gives you motivation and it makes you appreciate the times when you’re fit and firing.
“I had a clear vision and message from the boss, which was to focus on putting on some size by working hard in the gym and building my strength up, so that’s what I really honed in on during my time away from the pitch. I gained about four kilos, but all positive muscle. It was good to have that clear goal to work towards.”
Having worked his way back to full fitness and tasting competitive action again, Stynes is eager to make up for lost time this season.
“To break into the first team and get some game time is what I’m targeting,” he said. “I know that’s the same goal as when we spoke after my last injury, but I’m determined to achieve it and represent the club in A-League.
Having completed months of what was a strenuous pre-season alongside his Glory teammates, he insists seeing the side four points clear at the top of the league wasn’t unexpected.
“I’m honestly not surprised,” he said. “From the first session under Popa, we all knew that this group would be challenged every day and be ready to challenge for titles when the season rolled around.
“I’m over the moon for the boys and the club for what they’ve done so far. We’re all on the same wavelength, but we know nothing has been achieved yet and we go again this weekend against Wellington.”