CONOR McCarthy was delighted to return to the Barnsley first team this week after 345 days out with an injury.

The Irish centre-back, 25, sustained an ACL knee injury against Charlton in September last year but led the team out as captain in their 2-0 EFL Trophy win over Grimsby Town on Tuesday.

McCarthy told the Chronicle: “I can’t describe how it feels. My body was sore but it’s a really good sore – something I have waited 11 months for.

“To be back out on Oakwell and to keep a clean sheet was absolutely brilliant.

“It was a nice touch from the manager to name me as captain. It was something I didn’t expect. It was a real honour and I am just over the moon to be back.

“When you don’t play for so long there will always be elements of your game that are not razor sharp. It will take three or four games to get back to my best.

“I will look to build on the first game and get as many minutes as I can.”

McCarthy spent his time on the sidelines, as well as doing rehab, studying for a masters in commerce having earned a degree when at Cork City, and also taking an ambassador’s role in the Reds’ charity. He said: “It was really tough to be out but I am fortunate that my family backed me, said it wasn’t the end of the world and that I would be back fitter and stronger. I didn’t go into my shell like some lads and be all doom and gloom.

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“It definitely tests your resilience and now I am more mentally prepared.

“When I got injured there was a war in Ukraine.

“I am just a footballer, people are losing their lives. It puts it in perspective.”

Barnsley sold Mads Andersen and Liam Kitching this window with Bobby Thomas leaving after a good loan. McCarthy is now one of six fit centre-backs bidding to form Neill Collins’ regular back three.

“We lost a couple of good centre-backs but the club has recruited well.

“It’s up to us to show the manager we have what it takes to play in his starting 11. The way to do that is to perform in training. The manager has told us that and it’s up to us now.”

McCarthy watched on as Barnsley lost the League One play-off final last season, with the focus across the club to get to the Championship this time.

“The aim is to get promoted but talk is cheap. We have to work hard on the training pitch.

“We can all say we want to get promoted but it’s up to us to put in the hard yards and hopefully go one better.”