IT wasn’t the greatest goal that James Costello will ever score...
But the big striker’s outpouring of emotion after heading Ballymena United’s winner against Crusaders from close range was the reelease of months of frustration.
Few players would have looked forward to the start of the current campaign more than Costello, on the back of a fabulous finish to last season, topped off by being named the Football Writers’ Player of the Month for April and with a new two-year contract under his belt.
But a thigh strain picked up in pre-season had restricted the 26-year-old to just one starting appearance before Saturday.
“It was over the summer, it was only a minor strain at the time but then when we went down to Dublin for the tournament, I felt it a wee bit and I suppose, in hindsight, I should have stopped before I did,” recalls Costello.
“The next thing was I felt as though someone had shot me in the leg.
“People think thigh strains are fairly minor, a two or three week job, but when I did it the second time I felt a tear and when I went in it was about an inch gap.
“I felt as though I was letting people down by not playing but every time I came back, I knew it wasn’t right so we had to knock it on the head for four or five weeks but thankfully the rest did it the world of good.
“I feel as though I’m not far away from full fitness. I’ve been doing extra training with the lads and Lee Doherty has been putting me through fitness tests – there have been nights when I’ve felt like swinging for him when he’s telling me to run a bit quicker!
“I’ve been doing extra work away from the club and I’ve been doing a lot of leg weights and the thigh feels good.
“I’ve been conscious not only about trying to get back in, find my feet as quickly as I can but also of the need for goals and I’m trying to get into the right areas and hassle and harry defender ans hopefully I’ll get a goal tally that will suit the boss.
“You will be judged on your goal count as a striker. Losing Gary McCutcheon’s goals has put more emphasis on the rest of us and when Glenn told me during the summer he was giving me the number nine shirt, I knew there was a bit of pressure with that to get goals.
“I felt after coming off the high at the end of last season, I wanted to make my mark on the game a wee bit more now that McCutcheon is away but the injury has hampered me.
“But I’m not a man who looks back, I’m just looking forward to the forthcoming games and we’ve a cup final coming up so I feel I’m coming back in at a good time and hopefully I can be an asset to the squad.
“To simply be on the pitch on Saturday was what I really wanted – the goal was a big bonus.
“There were harsh word spoken on Monday night but Glenn didn’t have to do a team talk for the Crusaders game - every player, whether starting XI, on the bench or not involved knew there had to be a response but it’s how you react to those defeats will determine the longevity of a team’s season.
“We had to bounce back and we did. To score a goal in front of our fantastic fans, there’s no better feeling.
“The fans gave us a real lift. When you close down a defender and block a clearance, it’s that roar from the crowd gives the players a lift and we hope the fans realise how much we appreciate it,” added Costello.