Key Queensland Roar defender Josh McCloughan faces a battle to be fit for the 2007-08 A-League season start after revealing the full extent of a knee injury.
McCloughan started every Roar game in 2006-07 before missing out on Queensland's final regular season due to suspension - a run of 20 straight games.
However, Roar medical staff revealed McCloughan played his last seven games with an articular cartilage tear in his right knee - an injury that "only a handful of players in the league" could have endured.
Roar fitness co-ordinator Tony Ganter said McCloughan suffered the injury in round 13 but opted to soldier on to help Queensland make the finals for the first time.
But Queensland bowed out of the finals hunt on January 21 when it drew 1-1 with Sydney FC, ensuring it missed a top four finish on points difference.
"There are probably only a handful of players in the league that could have played on with what he's got," Ganter said.
"Most would have chosen not to play with it, had the surgery and missed the last eight games but Josh toughed it out.
"He's been having physio on his knee every week for the last couple of months just to hold him together."
Ganter said McCloughan suffered the injury in a tackle when his kneecap hit the back of his femur bone so hard "that it's just like a nine-iron taking a big chunk out of the ground".
"From then on in, every time he lunged it would be like a big knife dropping through his knee which makes it swell up," he said.
"He basically had to battle through it and although it was painful, he's a tough rooster."
After surgery, McCloughan will rest for four weeks before hitting pre-season training six weeks earlier than his teammates in a desperate bid to be fit for 2007-08.