ARSENAL Football Club’s highly rated Academy prospect, Jordan McEneff is relishing being back on the football pitch after experiencing the lonely daily grind of recovery and rehabilitation.
The talented first year scholar has been putting in the hard yards at the Gunners’ London Colney training base since being sidelined with a stress fracture in his lower back and then a broken foot last August.
And while it would seem the 17 year-old Derry native has never been away such is his recent form, he admits he felt his gruelling recovery programme took its toll.
Jordan, the younger brother of former Tottenham Hotspur Reserve player and current Derry City midfielder, Aaron, began his first year with the Gunners in sparkling form, scoring three goals in the opening three pre-season friendlies.
However, injury struck less than a month after his arrival in north London and he was forced to undergo surgery on a broken metatarsal which has ruled him out of almost half of the 2017/18 season.
He credits playing Playstation online with his brothers, constant contact with his family along with the outstanding support from the Arsenal coaching staff for helping him beat the boredom while his playing colleagues took to the pitch.
I’m a lot happier to be playing games now. You appreciate things more because you realise how hard it is not to be playing when you’re injured.Jordan McEneff
And the long lay-off certainly hasn’t done him any harm at all as he made his long awaited return last Saturday and found the back of the net to help steer Arsenal’s Under-18 outfit into the semi-finals of the Premier League Cup.
Indeed, he came off the bench facing a 4-2 deficit against Norwich and netted Arsenal’s third goal in the first half of extra-time to start the thrilling comeback. The Gunners eventually brought it back to 4-4 to force penalties and went on to win the shootout 5-4 to progress to a mouthwatering semi-final clash with north London rivals, Tottenham Hotspur on February 17th next.
Jordan followed that performance up on Tuesday night with an assist for Harry Clarke’s second goal in the 5-1 win away to West Ham after coming off the bench at the start of the second half. That’s over 100 minutes of football under his belt in the last week, so he’s ticking along nicely!
Business as usual then for the fleet-footed youngster who has picked up where he left off before that devastating injury setback almost six months ago.
It’s a good time to be in and around Arsenal’s state-of-the-art training complex at London Colney, Hertfordshire, with the arrival of ex-Dortmund striker, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and with Mesut Ozil signing his contract extension.
But the goings-on in the first team are of little consequence to Jordan who’s just delighted to be back playing and he’s doing so with an immovable smile on his face.
Describing his injury setback as ‘gutting’, Jordan explains how the club looked after him during a difficult period in his budding Arsenal career.
“My back had been giving me trouble for about a year-and-a-half on and off so that was always there and I got a scan on that but then I injured my foot and I was gutted,” he recalled.
“After being out for so long, when you eventually get back playing it just seems a lot better and you enjoy it more. I’m a lot happier to be playing games now. You appreciate things more because you realise how hard it is not to be playing when you’re injured.
“I’m playing under Kwame Ampadu, the U18 coach, but all the coaches around the club have been more than helpful. There’s a lot of Irish people around the club and when I got my injury they allowed me to go home more than usual just so it kept me from getting homesick and making sure I was okay.
“The family I’m staying with over here have been first class too,” he continued. “I’ve been home a few times but everyone in the team just welcomes you into the group.
“When everyone else is going out to train or play a match and you’re not, it can easily get you down. So to get on the phone to my mum or dad, or my brothers Aaron or Nathan, cheers you up. Even playing the Playstation with them or when they come to visit it cheers you up a bit.
“Whenever you’re in the gym by yourself, or training on your own, it’s hard but at Arsenal, one of the physios is Irish and he’s helped me a lot. It would’ve been a lot harder without him.”
Despite the frustrating start to his scholarship at the Gunners, the rest of the 2017/18 season is shaping up well. With that Premier League Cup semi-final to look forward to, Ampadu’s U18 side are sitting pretty in the league in second place behind Chelsea and they’re still going strong in the prestigious FA Youth Cup where they take on Middlesbrough for a place in the sixth round.
So plenty to look forward to for the 17 year-old Cornshell Fields man with a possible treble on the cards.
“I think we’re unbeaten now in nine or 10 games and we’re still in both cups and still in contention for the league. So it would be nice to win some silverware at the end of the season.
“At the minute it’s just about getting back to full fitness and just getting into the team is the aim and then I’ll take it from there really.
“I’ve only had a couple of games back so I still have to work up to 90 minutes. I was only supposed to play 20 minutes on Saturday but it went into extra-time and I got 60 minutes. I’m just working the minutes up until I play the full 90.”
Having switched his international allegiances from Northern Ireland to the Republic, Jordan is also looking forward to the upcoming UEFA U17 European Championship qualifiers next March and possibly the Euro Championship Finals in June.
The long hard hours in the gym are paying off and the future looks bright for the promising young Gunners’ midfielder.