Valour FC had just completed another session in the long preseason that leads to their Canadian Premier League opener in mid-April when midfielder Raphael Ohin settled in for a post-practice chat.
It was a big moment for many reasons — all of them evidenced by the joy on Ohin’s face and in his voice – as he stood just a few yards away from the very spot where his 2022 season was completely wiped out by an ACL tear in his left knee.
All of that isn’t lost on Ohin, the Ghanaian-born Winnipegger who proudly wears the Valour badge.
“It feels so good to be back again,” Ohin told valourfootball.club. “Obviously, it’s been way too long. Stepping back on the field again is a great joy.
“You get on the field for the first time and there’s a little bit of a mental battle with it. It’s, ‘Oh, is this going to happen again? Am I going to get hurt again?’ and you get a bit scared of going into a hard tackle or something like that. I’m not going to lie… staying out for a year, I’ve never been out for so long and getting back on the field for Day 1 was a little bit emotional.
“Last year it was the first day of practice when I got hurt. I got on the field and those memories come back. There was a little voice, a little fear. My goal was to just get through Day 1 first. I did that and I feel like I’m back to normal. Now it’s about building on it.”
Ohin’s return not only offers another experienced player to Valour’s midfield, but a physical presence as well – his nickname, after all, is ‘The Rhino.’ Prior to the injury last year, Ohin had taken an important step in his development in the 2021 season, with one goal and two assists in 26 CPL matches.
“Raph is someone who physically competes very hard, who covers ground well and has good passing ability,” said Valour GM and Head Coach Phillip Dos Sanos. “Raph can be a bit of a bulldozer who wins and can recover a lot of balls as a holding midfielder. I don’t see him as only that. I see him as someone who can use his energy to get higher and then could be very effective in counter-pressing situations to win the ball back and allow the team to already be set in the opposition’s half. He’s another piece that adds to the versatility that our midfield is going to have.
“Right now, he looks like Raph. We expect that same that we did going into last season and looking at him out here he looks like he just came off a season he had been playing. I don’t think about the fact he was out for a year. It’s a good sign.
“I think when you go through something like this there is a barrier, and an individual has to go through. Some people just forget, and Raph looks like a guy who just forgot he was injured.”
The time away taught Ohin a lot about himself, from working through his own frustrations through rehab to his perseverance during the whole process to the gratitude he now has come through the whole experience.
That means it will be a more mature, more appreciative Ohin that takes the pitch in 2023.
“All I can say is I’m grateful,” he said. “I’m grateful to God and all the people who helped me out like the Valour staff who did such a good job of keeping me on track. I would get frustrated at times, but they didn’t give up on me. At one point I lost my head and was getting mad at them because I was trying to push myself more and they were keeping me on a schedule. It was just frustration. At the end of the day, it all paid off and I’m really grateful to them, my family, and the fans who were sending me messages through my rehab.
“I just want to build on what I started before I got injured,” added Ohin. “There was a little pause on The Rhino, but The Rhino is back. I watched from the sidelines and the stands for so long it made me see the game in a different way. “I’ve done my homework well, now it’s time to step back on the field and just play.”