After 626 days, it must have been the best feeling in the world for Jon Flanagan to line-up for Liverpool from the start against Stoke City.
Following a superb breakthrough season when the Reds went within a whisker of winning the Premier League title, the academy graduate was likely ecstatic to continue his progression.
Football can be a cruel mistress and, at some point or another, a large proportion of players pick up a serious injury that keeps them on the sidelines for a significant amount of time.
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The 22-year-old was dealt a harsh hand when he picked up a knee injury whilst in pre-season training in 2014 and was deprived of one-and-a-half years of his career. It was a vital stage when youngsters experience their most important development and begin to flourish. Instead, Flanagan had to watch on from the stands.
The former St Francis Xavier schoolboy would have had a frustrating time on the sidelines, especially as he watched Liverpool's three-man defence fall to bits at times last term and would have been itching to get back playing.
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His long-awaited return against Exeter City in the third round replay of the FA Cup sparked an almighty roar from Kopites when he came on as a substitute. One of their own was back.
When the Reds came so close to winning the league title for the first time in 24 years, Flanagan was a vital member of Brendan Rodgers' side. On either side of the defence, he played with the badge on his sleeve. He was fuelled by passion and determination and was given the nickname the 'Scouse Cafu' which the original has also embraced.
His lengthy spell has done no harm to his ability. Players can be scared to rupture such a terrible problem once again when they return; Martin Kelly was never the same after he returned from a lengthy spell out injured as he looked tentative to fully commit to tackles.
Instead, it proved a tough mental challenge that Flanagan has come out on top of.
But whilst he's been in the sickroom on the road to recovery, Flanagan has witnessed two new full-backs join the ranks at Liverpool.
Nathaniel Clyne joined the Merseyside outfit for £12.5 million from Southampton during the summer. He's made 31 appearances in his debut season and has barely put a foot wrong.
The 24-year-old built himself a stellar reputation at St Mary's. During the 2014/15 campaign, Clyne registered the second most tackles in the Premier League and is a consistent player who is a regular for England.
Clyne was forced to miss Liverpool's semi-final second leg against Stoke City with a slight injury. Despite not starting a match for almost two years, Jurgen Klopp placed plenty of faith in Flanagan by starting him at right-back.
Flanagan repaid his manager in the greatest manner possible. He issued his intent by hitting Marko Arnautovic and Erik Pieters with harsh tackles in the early stages and he was Klopp's man of the match.
“My man of the match. He was great," the ex-Borussia Dortmund manager said.
“105 minutes after – you know it better than me – May 2014, right?
“So it's unbelievable making this match. Usually of course we know it's not the best thing (playing so long).
“Even when we took him out he was saying 'I could go on'. That was really great and with all the problems you lose the feeling for the game, you can lose it in shorter times.
"You can do all your things with the ball, that's what you don't forget, but defending in the right spaces, we defend different maybe than when he played last time."
Flanagan is not a flash footballer and keeps things simple, however, there's nothing wrong with that. Liverpool's rearguard has been far too inconsistent this term and going back to basics would do them no harm.
It's easy to forget that it was Flanagan, and not Clyne, who was placed on standby for the World Cup in 2014. Given Clyne is a regular for both club and country, a continuation of Flanagan's progress could see him get ahead in the pecking order once again.
He could also shove Alberto Moreno out of the team.
For most football teams, there seems to be at least one position that is a consistent problem.
For Manchester United, it was a goalkeeper in the years between Peter Schmeichel and Edwin van der Sar and for Manchester City, they've failed to find a solid partner for Vincent Kompany despite shelling out millions of pounds.
Liverpool's most vulnerable position over the past decade has been on the left-hand side of defence. John Arne Riise had a rasper of a left boot on him, along with a superb long throw, but his defensive duties were questionable.
Fabio Aurelio and Jose Enrique also did not make the grade and the less that gets said about Paul Konchesky's short stint at Anfield the better.
Moreno currently occupies the role for the Reds. Rodgers spent almost the entire summer of 2014 chasing the Spaniard's signature before signing him from Sevilla for £12 million and he was pushing Jordi Alba for a place in the Spain team.
His maiden season wasn't the most inspiring and Moreno has also failed to meet expectations this term.
Although he's a force to be reckoned with on the attack, his defensive duties have significant frailties and he's barely in contention to go to this summer's European Championship's with his country.
The 23-year-old rashly fouled Steven Naismith to grant Norwich City a penalty nine days ago and was also lucky that Naismith was not awarded a penalty minutes before for a reckless challenge.
Moreno was caught out of position for Arnautovic's strike for Stoke last week. He was dragged to the ball and left Bojan with acres of space on the right-hand.
Although it's not his preferred side, Flanagan would have no qualms playing at left-back and Klopp wouldn't fear deploying him there, either.
Could Flanagan become a first team regular under Klopp? Have YOUR say in the comment box below!
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