Conor set for op he hopes will save his career

Conor Pepper has revealed he is set to visit a top knee specialist for what he hopes will be a career-saving operation in London next month.

The Irishman suffered a serious knee injury at Hibernian on 24 February 2016 and experienced his first setback during pre-season in the build-up to the current campaign.

He made his return after nine months out in an Under-20s game against Airdrie at Parklea but received his biggest hammer blow three games into his comeback just as he looked to be on the cusp of a full recovery.

Pepper was left in a crumpled heap following an innocuous pass and forced to leave the field 52 minutes into a Development League West rout of Clyde at Celtic’s Lennoxtown, a match in which he had earlier scored.

It was after this that doctors delivered the devastating news that he would never kick a ball professionally again, leaving the 22-year-old crushed.

That was, however, until professor Adrian Wilson offered renewed optimism with the proposal of an advanced procedure that Pepper will undergo on 11 April.

He told “I’m going to see the top guy in his field down at the Hampshire knee clinic in London and he believes he can stop the recurrence of what’s happening with my knee, that he’d done this operation before.

“Basically what it is is that I have a 12mm by 6mm piece at the back of my knee cap from the original injury. Every time I open my foot out to cross or pass, I feel like my knee cap is coming away from my leg and it’s excruciating.

“After the last time, the doctors up here said that was me done, that I wouldn’t be able to play again because they thought the chunk that was causing the problem was never going to be fixed.

“Hearing that leaves you in disbelief, denial you could maybe call it. It was tough having your career taken away from you like that. I didn’t know where I was going to go and I was really upset.

“To be honest, I couldn’t have had a better manager to be under to be going through all this with than I do right now. He had his fair share of knee injuries and had to retire early and he’s been great.

“And the doctor down in England is going to do an operation to move my knee cap down a few millimetres because it sits quite high and try and tighten up the tendon, and hopefully my knee cap will be in a better place.

“He thinks that then it might mean I will be able to play again. After the operation there will be four to six months of rehab, and I’m not getting my hopes too high with the luck I’ve had.

“So I’m keeping myself grounded, keeping working hard and will be a lot stronger person for this whole thing. It’s been 14 months and I do feel a bit more positive now.

“I couldn’t be able to see a better person in the UK, so I feel that it’s something that’s definitely worth doing and something I want to go through with.”

Pepper’s pain … Conor in agony after suffering the initial injury at Easter Road                     © David Bell

When asked if this would mean he had potentially played his last game in Ton colours with his contract set to expire at the end of the season, he said: “Look, I’m not in a situation to want something from the club or ask for something.

“They’ve been paying me for a year now and I’ve done next to nothing. I feel embarrassed by that with the kind of person I am.

“I spoke to the gaffer and I’m doing a lot of coaching around the club and he did say to me that when I’m back fit, I can come in and start training again.

“He’s not guaranteeing any deal or anything like that, but I wouldn’t expect that anyway because all he’s done for me already is more than enough.

“I won’t have played for around 20 months. That’s nearly two years out the game for a 22-year-old, so that [winning a deal] is another hurdle for another time. Right now I need to get this operation and get my head down and start working again.”

A passionate figure on the touchline at development league games in recent months, Pepper has thoroughly enjoyed helping Andy Millen with the Under-20s.

He explained: “Coaching is something I’ve always wanted to do; I’ve known that from early on and spoken with Hagi [Craig McPherson] and stuff like that.

“I didn’t want to start this early, but since I was told how bad the knee was, I’ve been working with the gaffer and Hagi, and helping out Andy with the 20s.

“I’m enjoying it. Because I’ve not been involved with a matchday squad for about a year, this has let me feel more like I’m involved now, and that’s been important for me. So it’s been really good.”


Image (main): Jonathan Mitchell

Image (inset): David Bell