McLeod on the road to recovery after long spell on sidelines
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John McLeod is looking forward to getting back on the goal trail in the Highland League after a frustrating two-and-a-half years out injured.
The 31-year-old striker from Caithness scored 47 times for Buckie Thistle in their title triumph of 2016/17 but has played only a handful of games since that remarkable campaign.
Now, while many will look back on 2020 as their toughest year yet, McLeod sees it as one of new beginnings.
He has already celebrated his wife Kirsty giving birth to baby Sofia during the Covid-19 lockdown, a sister for Lexi (5). And while family has always come before football for the Inverness-based frontman, his long spell on the sidelines has left him with a deep desire to resurrect his career.
After three hip operations and various setbacks, McLeod – who as a young player had spells with local summer league clubs Thurso Acks and Dounreay Workshops – was finally making some progress by March. He did the warm-up for a Buckie home match against Huntly and his comeback was on the horizon when the season was prematurely called to a halt following the suspension of all Scottish football.
“I felt good doing that warm-up,” McLeod recalled. “It was sore after, and the recovery was slow, but I think it was getting to the stage where I was hoping to get on the bench, even if it was just minutes at the end.
“All that was stopped, but I’d like to think a pre-season would do me good. I’d like to do the first session and see how my recovery is, how long it takes me to get through everything.
“That’s definitely a good target for me.”
Buckie supporters still have fond memories of McLeod’s massive contribution to the club’s championship success three years ago. However, the following season, the effect of a persistent hip problem took its toll on the forward who was one of numerous players in Graeme Stewart’s squad hit by injury.
Video: John McLeod's Scottish Cup hat-trick against BSC Glasgow in 2017
Playing through the pain, McLeod still managed to net 15 goals by November 2017, the last one in a 4-1 home defeat to Nairn County – the last match he played.
Surgery on both hips, including two on the right side, has meant the road to recovery has been painfully slow.
“Every time you felt you were getting somewhere, it was like you were hitting a brick wall and you were back to square one,” he said.
Now finally making good progress, McLeod has even recruited the services of a Highland League opponent to help him step up his rehabilitation.
Clachnacuddin player/assistant manager Sean Webb works as a physiotherapist and has given McLeod a programme to aid his return to full fitness.
“He’s been brilliant, a great help," McLeod said. "We might play against each other next season and he realises that he might be faster than me.”
Before making his mark at Highland League level McLeod lived at Geise, outside Thurso.
"I was lucky enough to play for Acks when my stepdad Marc Swanson and my uncles Alan Murray, Martin Murray and Niall Murray were all there," he said. "Then, to get more games, I went to Dounreay Workshops."
McLeod said he enjoyed playing alongside his uncle Alan in particular, as the latter was a prolific scorer for Wick Academy in their first few seasons in the Highland League. It was a target of his to beat his uncle's best Highland League goal tally and he ended up doing that with something to spare in that title-winning year at Buckie.