Whether he’s on the pitch or on the bench when the Europa League theme tune belts out ahead of Dundalk’s Group B opener against Molde at Tallaght Stadium on Thursday, Jordan Flores can afford himself a brief moment to look to the sky and be thankful for where he is in life.
It will be three years this Friday since the 25-year-old midfielder was involved in a potentially career-threatening two car collision on his way to training with Chesterfield, where he was on loan from home town club Wigan Athletic.
He would spend a total of three weeks and two days in hospital, during which time he was told by doctors that he would never play again.
Some 1,096 days on, Flores feels he is still recovering from the injuries sustained in the crash but admits he is lucky to be where he is right now.
“If you had said to me three years ago that I’d be getting ready for a Europa League game, I’d have taken that,” he smiled.
“It has been a long tough road since the accident and I still think I’m recovering from it with my back and stuff but if someone had said to me three years ago I’d be here now in the Europa League group stages I’d have thought no chance so I’ve come a long way.”
Flores’ accident, which saw him suffer a major foot injury, couldn’t have come at a worse time for him career wise. Just seven days earlier he had scored his first goal for Chesterfield in a 2-0 win away to Crawley Town while he had featured in all 15 of the League Two side’s matches that season before the collision involving his Mercedes GLA and a Toyota Auris on October 23rd.
“It was a tough time,” he said reflecting back on the incident.
“There’s obviously never a good time for these things to happen but it was probably the first time in my career that I had started to get regular games and for that to be cut short was tough mentally and physically but I’m here now so I can’t complain.
“The day after the accident the doctor said to me I’ll never play football again but luckily everything healed in the right way.
“I’ve worked hard to get back to here but I’m still going now. I’ve only played about 80 matches at 25 years old so it’s not a lot but hopefully the best days are still ahead.”
There was slight progress for the Englishman on Monday when he featured and scored in Dundalk’s 2-1 win away to Derry City in the league. That appearance means he has played more for the Lilywhites in this shortened campaign than last year when a hip injury saw him miss most of the campaign.
He feels he still has work to do, however, to impress new boss Filippo Giovagnoli, who he described as the best manager he has ever worked for.
“I was happy to get a start on Monday but I felt my own performance wasn’t the best.
“I had a little bit of an injury when the manager came in and it has kind of set me back a little bit. I’ve been in and out of the team which has disrupted my momentum but I’m just working hard in every training session to get up to speed. I don’t think I’m out of place but you can tell I’m not quite there yet.
“I came back from a big injury last season and tried to strengthen from that but there’s still work to do.
“It’s good for me that there’s so many games coming up because it will help me get my minutes up. There’s definitely minutes there to be got and hopefully I can start putting a good performance in every time I’m on the pitch.”
Indeed, Flores would love nothing more than to make his mark in Europe in the weeks ahead.
“It’d be a dream come true to play in the Europa League group stages,” he said looking ahead to a group that also contains Arsenal and Rapid Wien.
“Playing in Europe is very exciting. It’s the reason I came over here in the first place. It’s just a great experience to be involved in and hopefully we can do ourselves proud now.
“I think we can achieve big things. We’ve got our big draw against Arsenal and obviously everyone will be excited to play in those but against the other teams we feel we can pick points up against them. We’ll just see what happens though. We’ve got plenty of games left between the league, the Cup and the Europa League so we’re just taking it a game at a time to see what happens.
“We’ve had a pretty tough season. We had a good start, then Covid hit and we had a bit of a dip but everything is going in the right direction now. The camp is buzzing and everyone is in a great mood so let’s hope for good things,” he said.
Dundalk v Molde kicks-off at 5.55pm on Thursday and will be broadcast live on Virgin Media Two.