Ho Wai Loon's out of the darkness, and firing again
Ho's playing again, wearing that trademark smile
BALESTIER KHALSA v WARRIORS FC
(Tonight, 7.30pm, Toa Payoh Stadium)
He had to endure a hellish 12 months, but finally, the smile is back on Ho Wai Loon's face.
The Balestier Khalsa man's nightmare year began last year, when he emerged as the convenient scapegoat - hosts Singapore were eliminated in the group stage of the 2015 SEA Games, after he was sent off in the Under-23s' final match against Indonesia.
Just as he was looking to put that disappointment behind him, he suffered the dreaded anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear on his left knee a month later.
It ruled him out of action until this May, but his comeback was further delayed by a series of niggling injuries.
He has been a rare positive in what has been a difficult Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League campaign for the Tigers, and Ho has slowly but steadily regained his form and fitness and, along with that, his trademark toothy grin.
"What happened at the SEA Games was a really downer for me," he told The New Paper, yesterday, ahead of tonight's clash with Warriors FC .
"To be given the opportunity at a major tournament and then to mess up… Even though people told me to just get over it, it was easier said than done.
"Then, to get a serious injury after that was a disaster and you really have to start from zero and build up your strength in the following six or seven months.
Not only has the 23-year-old forced his way back into Balestier's first team, he has also impressed in his new role in the heart of the engine room.
Although injuries could force him to return to left back in tonight's home tussle, Tigers coach Marko Kraljevic has nonetheless seen enough to predict a future in midfield for Ho.
"Wai Loon has had some difficult times in the past year and it's really tough to come back from such an injury," said the German-born Croat.
"It's very hard to pick things back up and get back to normal, but I've been very impressed with him.
"He has a very good attitude, always working hard and never giving up.
"We tried him in midfield one day during training and I saw he has got the vision, aggression and the delivery with his left foot.
"With more hard work, I believe he has the potential to move to the next level."
While his best position may be up for debate, what is certain is that Ho is happy to be back helping ensure Balestier finish the year in the best way possible.
"Honestly, I didn't really believe I could play in this position at this level," he said.
"But when the coach has confidence to put you there, it means he trusts you and the only thing I'm focused on is getting the job done.
"I just want to take it game by game, year by year, and show anyone who thinks they might not be given a chance that hard work pays off."
"But I didn't want to give up on my career, because I'm still young and the support from my family, friends and coaches really helped me come back stronger."
- Balestier’s Ho Wai Loon