JOEY O’Brien is hoping the bad times are over as he looks forward to making up for lost time.

The Wanderers’ defender’s future has been in doubt over the last two years due to a series of injury problems.

But he returned to action in Wanderers’ pre-season friendly against Charleston Battery on Saturday night which he hopes will be the beginning of a new era for him.

The Republic of Ireland international had been written off in many quarters after a string of knee injuries and operations had turned him into the forgotten man of the Reebok squad.

Such was his situation, renowned knee surgeon Dr Richard Steadman even advised him to give up the ghost. But 21 months after his last outing for the first team, there was surely not a prouder man on the pitch in Charleston than O’Brien, as he played the entire second half of a 2-0 victory.

Speaking to The Bolton News, the 24-year-old midfielder paid tribute to the medical staff both inside and outside the club that turned round his fortunes.

“I’ve had a few ops, and people have doubted my chances of playing again,” he said.

“Then I came across Andy Williams and he’s saved my career. I did rehabilitation with Bill Knowles over in America, so it’s been my club, my family and my faith that kept me going throughout the whole thing.

“There is still a long way to go. It’s only 45 minutes in a pre-season friendly against opposition that doesn’t really come up to English standard but I have been back training for a while and the knee is feeling good.

“It has been a very hard time over the last couple of years. Things have also happened in my personal life, like my father passing away, and he had been amazing for me throughout, like my mum.

“There have been some really bad, bad times but hopefully they are over and done with now and I can get back playing again.”

O’Brien’s last game was against Blackburn in October, 2008, after which a succession of injury problems seemed to have spelt the end of his career with Wanderers.

It came as a shock to many last season when former boss Gary Megson consulted with Phil Gartside and Eddie Davies about giving the sidelined star a new 12-month deal – but the young Dubliner is determined to repay the club’s faith.

“It’s probably a three-month project rather than the start of the season but the main aim is getting fit,” he said.

“The club have been great because last year I didn’t have a contract and the chairman and the owner gave me that year, even though I didn’t deserve it. I hadn’t brought anything to the football club.

“Hopefully I can give something back to them by getting back and becoming a first team footballer again.”

Wanderers’ victory may have been comfortable against Charleston, but O’Brien admits his successful return to first team action had been anything but.

“It’s nearly two years since I played so obviously it was great to get back in with the lads, wear a pair of shin pads again and get stuck in,” he said.

“It was good to get 45 minutes in that heat, and there were a few times I glanced up at the clock to see how much time had gone, and then couldn’t believe it when it was only 10 minutes.

“Hopefully that’s in the bank now, and I can maybe get a little bit more over here then play a couple of friendlies back in England.”