Craig Cathcart should return to Northern Ireland’s team on Sunday for the first time since Euro 2016 having finally overcome a groin problem that stumped a series of European specialists.
The Watford defender has missed his country’s first four World Cup qualifiers with an injury that has restricted him to only 13 appearances for his club and cost him three months of the season.
That is not to say that Cathcart was simply kicking his heels waiting for the issue to heal over time. Instead he embarked on a European tour in a bid to find a solution; visiting five different countries, having surgery in Munich and then heading on to Qatar before making his comeback on New Year’s Day.
“The start of the season was frustrating for me and I couldn’t really put my finger on what it was,” the 28-year-old said.
“I was getting pain in my groin, and across my lower abs, so it took a while to get a diagnosis.
“It’s a pretty complicated area, everything crosses over in the middle of your body. I went to Italy, Spain, Germany, Holland, Denmark - it was a bit of a tour!
“The medical team at Watford tried to send me to the best places for the best treatment and they just wanted to look after me in the best way.
“The specialists got together in the end and decided surgery was the best option but it did perhaps take a bit long to reach that conclusion.
“It was probably the worst injury I’ve had just because of the fact it was so hard to get a diagnosis and it was a complicated area so you end up with pain in all kinds of areas.”
Twelve days of nine-to-five rehabilitation work in the searing Qatar heat before Christmas eventually put Cathcart back on track.
His comeback means Northern Irish boss Michael O’Neill has the option of restoring the all-Premier League defence he utilised at the Euros, with West Brom’s Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley the other members of that back three.
And whatever the arrangement the trio are deployed in, they will have to contend with one of the English top-flight’s form strikers against Norway in Bournemouth’s Joshua King.
He has found the net eight times in his past eight appearances and has appeared to come of age at 25 having once been part of the same Manchester United academy that included Cathcart.
“I have known him since he was 15 - he has developed into a top player now and has had a good season so far,” Cathcart said.
“He will be a difficult player to come up against and he has an eye for goal this season so we will need to be on our toes.
“You could always see he had potential. He had a good growth spurt when he was younger and he got big and strong pretty quick.
“He always had the potential to be a top player and he’s proven that last season and this season.
“He has proved he deserves to be in the Premier League and we will try and stop him on the night.”