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After 21 long months, the sight of Fern Whelan back out on a football pitch is a welcome one for Everton.
The defender's anticipated cameo more than made up for the Development squad's 3-0 defeat to Aston Villa on the weekend and for Whelan herself, the relief that her hard work and dedication has all been worth it was palpable as she spoke about her long awaited return to action.
"I am very happy as it has been a long time coming," she said. "I think we have two weeks off now which isn't ideal for me as I can't wait to get back on the pitch again.
"The aches did kick in about an hour after I had been on the pitch, but it was a good ache! I woke up the day after and I was still injury free which is obviously the most important thing. The aim after completing my physiotherapy was to get back to playing and make sure there was no reaction from the injury. My knee thankfully still feels strong so I am very happy."
Having enjoyed plenty of big occasions in her career to date you wouldn't imagine that an attack of the nerves would ever affect a player who has played for her country. Yet standing there, waiting to come on, Whelan had to battle her nerves as the moment she had worked so hard to reach for nearly two years finally arrived.
"I was so nervous which is not something that normally happens to me!" she smiled. "I have played against some top international teams and European finals but that game against Villa made me so nervous when I was going on."
However, the support that she has received from the supporters, like it has in her enforced absence and during her rehab, got her through. "I have had lots of support and I can't thank everyone enough for the amount of support that I have received. One fan told me after the game that she had rushed straight away from her own training session as she had heard that I might be getting fifteen minutes which was very flattering to hear."
Now the focus is to continue gradually working her way back into regular game time, with the Development Squad offering the perfect platform for her. "It will be a tough one for me because now I feel as though I could play a full 90 minutes!" continued Whelan.
"I think the next few months have to be quite conservative, with steady, gradual progress, checking there is no reaction and attempting to get a full game in before Christmas. In the meantime, I hope to be challenged every week in the Development League and go from there."
However just as one player has taken her first steps back on the football pitch, another is now set for a spell out of the game. Star young defender Paige Williams, who shone for England in the recent UEFA Under-19 Championships, has sustained a cruciate ligament injury and Fern has promised to help guide her through her recovery.
"I have already been speaking to her on the phone and went in to see her with some goodies to take her mind off things," she said. "She is in good hands and has reacted in a very positive way. It is not nice getting an injury but if you can respond to these things in a positive manner, which she has, then you will be fine."
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