Northern Ireland’s Gareth McAuley has revealed how fearful he was when he lost feeling in his foot just two days after Seamus Coleman’s sickening leg break.
The Premier League’s current oldest outfield player, ever present in West Brom’s defence during their 29 top-flight games this term, was engulfed by panic when Norway’s Joshua King struck a nerve down his leg during the first half of Northern Ireland’s 2-0 win in Belfast on Sunday.
The 37-year-old had already sustained a blow to the back during the game and appreciates that at his age a serious injury such as the one Coleman sustained playing for the Republic of Ireland on Friday could end his career at the top level.
“He just caught me on the side of leg,” McAuley explained of his own problem.
“I went to put my foot down and it felt as though my foot wasn’t there. So I panicked; there was absolutely no strength at all in it.
“I really panicked - I honestly thought there was nothing there. I was so worried. I didn’t know what was going on.
“I tried to play a pass to Davo (Steven Davis) and I felt nothing at all in my foot.
“You see things - players getting injured and things like that. You never know when your last game of football is, so if you start taking it for granted, it’s a game that can come back and bite you. It can finish you off.”
Thankfully the fear subsided once the feeling returned. With his club colleague Jonny Evans advising him to seek more attention from the Northern Irish medical department and boss Michael O’Neill contemplating a possible substitution, the centre-back soldiered on and was able to ease concerns over a long-term problem.
And he completed 90 minutes once more to help his country keep a fourth clean sheet in their five World Cup qualifiers.
“At that time I probably felt I couldn’t continue but I was determined to play on and see if the strength would come back and thankfully it did,” McAuley added.
“The more I kept moving the more strength returned which was a huge relief. Once I could feel my foot again then I stopped panicking.”
Northern Ireland remain second in Group C of their World Cup qualification campaign on 10 points and will now look to take care of business in Baku and end Azerbaijan’s aspirations of taking a play-off spot.
McAuley believes that three points in that June fixture would then perfectly set up a September showdown with the Czech Republic at Windsor Park that could determine who finishes runners-up to Germany.