Pre-season training has been a novel experience this summer for Neil Mellor.
The last time the Preston North End striker was fully fit for the big kick-off he was a teenager at Liverpool.
"I was 18 or 19 when I had my last proper pre-season, and now I'm 24," he said, as he looked forward with crossed fingers to finally starting a league campaign in peak condition.
"If I can make it to the opening day without a problem then I'm hoping it will stand me in good stead for the rest of the season."
A variety of knee problems have blighted Mellor's senior career. But he is hoping this could be the season it all comes good and he can finally prove the doubters wrong.
A summer of rest followed by controlled hard work with the physios meant he went into pre-season in his best condition for five years.
"I've always had to play catch-up in the past, so this year I'm hoping I can show what I can do," he told the Evening Post.
"I am feeling the best I have felt for a long time. So, fingers crossed, we will see the benefits and I can have a full year."
Four of the last five seasons have begun late for Mellor. The other one – 2003/04 on loan at West Ham – he started in the opening match, at Deepdale, but was not fully fit.
In 2002/03 it was December before he kicked a ball for the Liverpool first team and he played only six games.
In 2004/05 the first of his 16 appearances for the Reds came in late October.
The following year it was January 21 before he played the first of just five matches on loan for Wigan.
And again last term it was late January before he pulled on a North End shirt.
In four-and-a-half years of senior football, Mellor has managed just 55 appearances in all competitions, 24 of those from the substitutes' bench.
Little wonder he is anxious about making the first game against Norwich in tip-top condition. "It is important for me this time after the record I've had," he said.
"It's always been the knees with me, although different types of knee injuries. But I've been able to give it a really good go this year and I'm feeling a lot stronger, my movement is a lot better.
"Like all the other players I was given a target to reach by the start of pre-season training and, after I had rested my knees for a little bit, I got going on fitness work.
"I started coming in for extra work a couple of weeks before we started. And I must say I have felt the benefit.
"If I can just get through the full pre-season programme without a major problem then I will be very positive and optimistic for the season.
"Last season I was hampered throughout with my knees. I never really got over the injury. That was frustrating because I had come to a new club and I wanted to show what I was capable of. But I'm sure I can show any doubters out there what I can do this time."
Mellor admits he has not set any targets for himself, other than to make it to the opening game fully fit.
"If I do them you will see me as a very happy boy when we play Norwich on the opening day," he added.
"We are going to miss Dave Nugent because you could see last season how influential he was for the team.
"But his leaving gives other players, including myself, a chance to stake a claim.
"There are a few strikers here and I'm not bothered by competition.
"When I was at Liverpool I was used to it – I was competing against Baros, Owen and Heskey week-in-week-out.
Copyright - Lancashire Evening Post