Published: 00:00, 10 October 2017
Duane Ofori-Acheampong has thanked Dartford for their professionalism in helping him recover from a knee injury sustained at the end of last season.
Unbeknown to him, the centre-forward was playing with a torn meniscus in the latter weeks of the 2016/17 campaign, a problem which required keyhole surgery once revealed by an MRI scan.
Ofori-Acheampong, who won two player-of-the-year awards in his first season at Princes Park, went under the knife days after the Darts play-off defeat to Chelmsford, with the National League South club covering the cost.
He said: "Dartford were outstanding with me when it came to sorting out my injury.
"I was covered by the club, they paid for my operation, which is no cheap thing. There was no discussion, they said they’d sort that out for me and I can’t thank them enough because I needed to get that done.
"In non-league, it’s a lot different when guys get injured. Where I’ve been at Torquay and other clubs, you’re covered sometimes for injuries but when you go lower down in the leagues, you’re not. Sometimes you need to do stuff yourself or people haven’t got that covered so to pay for it for me was a big deal because they didn’t have to do that.
"In terms of my contract, that was the smoothest thing ever. We sat down, spoke about it and it was pretty much done.
"It wasn’t a case of my thinking I could get out of the door or get anything else.
"I enjoyed the season because we got to the play-offs, had the knock with tearing my meniscus leading into the summer - which was probably the worst timing when you’re about to talk about contracts - but the club were good with me on that front."
Surgery was just the start for Ofori-Acheampong, though.
He said: "I was on crutches for six weeks, partial weight bearing, so that was a bit of a knock because it ruined my whole summer. I wasn’t able to go away so I had to cancel my holiday.
"I went straight into recovery mode, did everything the doctors told me to do and made sure I could get back fully fit. After that I had another six weeks off the crutches but I wasn’t allowed to kick a ball or anything.
"I had to do little stuff like get on the bike and treadmill and that was 12 weeks. Then it was trying to step up and do a bit. I’ve never been injured before so I was eager to get myself feeling how I usually do."
But with his team-mates fit after a full pre-season Ofori-Acheampong had to play catch-up.
He said: "Initially I found it quite hard, even watching games in pre-season, turning up to football and having to sit there knowing I couldn’t play. I had to ask the gaffer if I could miss certain away games, which he was good about.
"The mental side of watching, when you know you can’t play, is so jarring. It’s another 90 minutes of you thinking ‘I could be out there’.
"Where I’ve never been injured before, it’s been a new experience for me because I’ve never really had to sit out. I’ve always been able to play so it’s been a weird experience over the summer and trying to get back to the level all the boys are at because I wasn’t able to kick a ball through the whole of pre-season.
"I’ve had to keep myself mentally on the ball and work hard when I’m not at training, do my own stuff as well.
"I’ve still got a bit to go to get to where I really want to be in terms of what I know I can do but that’s going to come gradually."
Ofori-Acheampong was given a great reception from Dartford supporters when he came on for the last 15 minutes of the 3-1 win against Bognor Regis on Saturday.
It was his first appearance at Princes Park since scoring in the play-off defeat to Chelmsford on May 7 and the striker agreed with manager Tony Burman's assessment that his biggest hurdle now is beating the "mind games" of putting his body on the line again.
Ofori-Acheampong said: "I’m not used to having to listen to my body in the sense of ‘I need to get over this’.
"It’s a mental thing of getting stuck in and really putting yourself there knowing you’re not doing too much to get injured again or you’re not doing too little, not pushing enough to get the best out of yourself.
"That’s it, me overcoming my mind and trusting my knee, knowing I’m getting stronger, it’s getting better, which it clearly is, and keep building - and rest when I need to.
"That’s all part of listening to your body. Being raring to go, you want to play every game and jump in but if you do that sometimes, you could set yourself back even longer.
"I’ve got to listen to my body and understand where it’s too much or where I can push it."
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