Midfielder Niall Grace knows he’s a lucky boy and concedes that 2016 is certainly a year he will never forget.
The 23-year-old, who was in an induced coma for more than a week in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast after an altercation in September, is now looking forward to putting the Institute jersey back on.
Grace, has been back training with his team-mates at Drumahoe for a number of weeks now, admits he knows there are risks but he’s determined to get back and help Stute’s Championship promotion push in 2017.
“I have obviously done all the tests on me, like how my body is working, my speech, walking and how my mind is working, the small things like that and the doctors have said everythying is OK, but they also said if I get another knock on my head then there’s a risk,” he stated.
“But the doctor couldn’t really say that I’m more risk than someone else who has had a similar problem, because those people could be worse off than me; so he has completely let me make the decision.
“The doctor has explained everything to me and did admit that there was some risks, but it was completely my choice.”
The doctor has explained everything to me and did admit that there was some risks.Niall Grace
The Manchester United supporter admits he has been given the all clear from everyone, although he does know that his parents and family members will always have that concern the minute he gets back into competitive action for Stute. “I would say that I have been given the thumbs up from everyone, but my mother and father have another view on it, but again they said it’s my choice,” he said.
“Yes I know the worries that they’ll have and I know the risk that I’m taking, but the doctor did say to me it was my choice and if I feel up for it then why not.
“I feel I’m back to normal now, I just have to go out and get fit.”
Grace, who lost quite a bit of weight during his ordeal, is slowly but surely getting up to speed and has been enjoying back in the dressing room at the Riverside Stadium.
“Out training with the boys again has definetely been a big step for me,” he added.
“I just want to get my fitness up and then it’s up to Kevin (Deery) whether I’m going to get into the squad and stuff like that.
“To be fair my fitness may still be a wee bit off but every week it’s getting better so as long as I keep at it I’ll get there.
“Just getting back to normality was the main thing for me and now back training with the boys for a few weeks is great.”
Grace, who started the season well before the incident in the summer, knows the Drumahoe men have hit a bit of form and he may struggle to get back into the squad, but he remains confident that he will complete his come-back sooner rather than later.
“The boys have had a good few results so it’s going to be hard to get back into the squad,” he added.
“But I know if I keep at it, I’ll get my chance and hopefully I can grab it with both hands and stay in the squad and prove a point.
“I really can’t emphasise enough how much I really just want to get back out playing football; I would always say there’s a risk playing football, when you are going in for headers maybe a clash of heads and the worse could happen to you, but I just think anything could happen to you, even walking down the street, so I just want to get out playing football again and that’s it.”
While Grace would have been forgiven to have just tried and wipe out 2016 and wish for a great 2017, the talented midfielder didn’t do that, in fact he conceded apart from the terrible night in September he has enjoyed the last 12 months.
“To be fair 2016 was a good year for me up until that happened; because I signed for Stute, we won the Intermediate Cup at Windsor Park and we came close to getting promoted, so hopefully in 2017 we can go one better and get into the Premiership.”