RR: When we last spoke to you about Duncan’s progress in July, you noted that he’d not had any issues with the knee - the meniscus, swelling etc - and that in terms of his rehab, he was ahead of schedule. How has he done since then - have things continued along at pace?
IW: It’s been all good, thanks. Everything to this point has gone to the plan set by the physios and medics, who have all been excellent, by the way. And Duncan’s statistics - for example, on retaining the pace that he had before his injury - are very encouraging.
RR: You also noted that you’d be back to see the surgeon late in July. Obviously, that conversation went well as we’ve seen Duncan training right since the summer, but what was the overall feeling coming away from that appointment and what course of action did the surgeon suggest as Duncan entered the latter stages of his rehab?
IW: The surgeon is a great man - not just for his skill, but his manner too. He is openly honest. He said that he was very happy - much happier than with Duncan’s previous injury, mainly due to the lack of swelling throughout the recovery period.
But, he stressed that there would be an extra three months of recovery needed this time as it is his second time round - what he calls a “revision”. So instead of six to nine months recovery, it has had to be nine to twelve.
I happened to see the surgeon myself recently at an event and I told him not to take it the wrong way, but we hoped never to see him again in a professional capacity!
RR: Obviously you can’t give us exact timelines of when he’ll be back, but how are things going and are you expecting him to be back playing soon?
IW: We are at ten-and-a-half month stage right now, so he is training regularly with the first team and after the international break is expecting to receive a detailed comeback plan - which should include playing games for the U23s side.
So, I don’t know precisely when he’ll be ‘back’ but I’m sure the club have it in hand.
RR: What has Jack Ross been like with Duncan?
IW: Brilliant. When Jack Ross first arrived at the club, only two players were in at the academy, both doing off-season rehab. Duncan was one of them, so they met early.
I think they clicked on a personal level from the off. They agreed on rough timings for his comeback, but Jack stressed he would not pressure Duncan to come back quickly. Player welfare is at the very top of his list, with a duty of care paramount.
He has stuck to his word on that.
RR: Has Jack earmarked a role for Duncan in his system? I’d be interested to know what his plans are - we play a high pressing game now, which I feel might suit Duncan to a tee…
IW: By all accounts, Jack Ross’ style at St Mirren was very much Duncan’s style. As you know, Duncan can play anywhere across the front three, works his socks off, and is always looking to play the ball forward - all attributes that the manager values.
Beyond that, I think we have to wait and see. The most important thing is that he comes back sustainably fit - the rest will take care of itself.
RR: Duncan has just under two years left on his deal here, so obviously the hope will be that he can play a part in the club’s resurgence. How desperate is he to contribute?
IW: Like everyone he would rather not be in League One, but is enjoying the fact that the club has only lost once this season in the league and is in contention for promotion. The atmosphere is so much better as a result, at the academy during the week and at the stadium on match days. So, of course he wants to play a part, but he also expects to be eased back into what is currently a successful squad.
My twitter feed has been consistently full of goodwill messages from the Sunderland fans, who are positive but with realistic expectations, and this is backed up in person at the stadium or wherever. I can’t emphasise enough how important this is too.
RR: I know when we’ve spoke in the past, you’ve credited Duncan with a strong mental attitude and it has been that which has carried him through all of the rehab he’s had to undergo. How much do you feel that might count when it comes to him actually stepping back onto the grass, getting tackled again and so on? I just wonder about how players who have suffered lengthy injuries like Duncan has react to actually competing in a physical environment again.
IW: I was at Preston last year when he made his comeback - within five minutes he had been absolutely leveled by their goalkeeper. I stress that I do not want that to happen again, but it did quickly reassure Duncan that he wasn’t fragile.
The repeat injury against Millwall was a freak accident, not a weakness. And there are several good stories of players returning after double ACL injuries, not least Callum Wilson at AFC Bournemouth, and Fraizer Campbell at Sunderland.
So he will be a bit nervous outside, but confident within that the treatment and recovery and learning from other players will get him back to his best at some point this season.
RR: What have the other lads in the camp been like with Duncan? Does he feel as much of ‘a part of it’ as he possibly can be? Does he travel to games with the squad?
IW: He doesn’t normally travel to away games - there’s not much point and it’s time better spent with the the physios - but he is always at home games, doing a lot of fans outreach activity. He is also heavily involved in the club’s community work, like this week opening a new centre with Max Power.
The new owners always comment how Jack Ross is recruiting players of the right character as well as ability, so I think its an easy group to be part of. And many of them have come through the academy and are his mates, not least George and Lynden, and he has always got on well with Catts.
Finally - and I am not saying that if he had remained injury free he would have been in Russia, or in Spain this week - but Gareth (Southgate) was a big influence on Duncan in the U20 and U21 years, and many of that squad were Duncan’s contemporaries for England age games. Not just Pickers (Jordan Pickford) but Loftus-Cheek, Chalobah, Chilwell, Winks etc. He even overlapped with Rashford and Dele Alli.
So, I think everyone at the club is looking forward to him getting back, staying fit and hopefully returning to those sort of levels. Because, if he does, it could be very timely for the business end of the season.