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Macca ready to rise to challenge as he aims for a big City return.

Byline: Terry Phillips terry.phillips@walesonline.co.uk

STEPHEN McPhail has cleared many hurdles in his eventful Cardiff City career.

From having to deal with cancer (the midfielder was diagnosed with stage one malt lymphoma in November 2009), and his Sjogren's Syndrome condition to winning over City fans often unsure about his effectiveness in the hurly-burly world of the Championship, McPhail has not been short of challenges in his six years with the Bluebirds.

Now McPhail is ready for another huge test in his football life, but it is one he is confident of passing with flying colours.

The 32-year-old's priority is to regain a place in the Cardiff first-team squad and play regularly, an ambition he must achieve against the background of his contract ticking down.

McPhail's current deal runs out at the end of this season and he says: "I truly believe I can be back in the first team pretty soon - and then it's down to me.

"I have eight months left on my contract and I want to stay at this club much longer.

"To do that I have to be playing at my best and that's something I will be working towards over the next month or so.

"It would be fantastic if I could play my part in the club winning promotion to the Premier League because I believe this squad is capable of achieving that."

McPhail had been out of action for nearly three months before Tuesday night when he played an hour for Cardiff's Under-21 Development League team.

But the familiar signs were soon evident at the Cardiff City Stadium, providing calmness and neat passing in midfield when others appeared to be running around at 100 miles per hour.

One of the four over-age players permitted and linking up with Joe Ralls in the centre, the 10-times' capped Republic of Ireland playmaker was soon setting the tempo and pulling the strings in a 4-0 defeat of Millwall.

It was McPhail's first appearance since he limped off after only 19 minutes of the Capital One Cup defeat at Northampton on August 14.

McPhail will step up his fitness in City's next Development League fixture at Brighton on Monday and he hopes to be back in first-team contention sooner rather than later.

"It felt great to be back," said McPhail.

"I've had to be patient because the manager (Malky Mackay) and medical staff quite rightly made sure I took my time to regain fitness.

"The process could not be rushed and I've been training for three weeks or so now.

"Physically, I feel good. I feel sharp.

There are a couple more development matches coming up and I want to be involved in those."

McPhail's season has once again been disrupted by injuries and illness.

He has suffered two torn hamstrings while City's medical staff have worked hard to find the right balance of medication to control his Sjogren's Syndrome, a rare condition which affects the moisture levels produced in the body.

"I took 15 tablets a day at one stage but that's now down to two, and that's great progress," said McPhail.

"I'm feeling strong and aiming to build on the fitness I have.

"It's been a long road back because I suffered a torn hamstring at Northampton and then, just as I was making progress, it went again.

"The second tear was more serious and it was clear I would be out even longer.

"It wasn't easy to lift myself, but I have trained hard and gone through double sessions, sometimes on my own.

"But I am delighted with my progress and I feel ready now.

"My body feels great and the medication plan is going well.

"I am working from a far better fitness base now than I was last season."

McPhail has made more than 220 appearances for City since joining from Barnsley on a free transfer in the summer of 2006.

With well over 400 career appearances behind him - also at Leeds, Millwall (loan) and Nottingham Forest (loan) - McPhail is looking to the future and is taking his coaching badges.

But he insisted: "There is a lot more playing in me yet and I am keen to make sure that is with Cardiff.

"This club means an awful lot to me.

Bluebirds fans have been incredibly supportive and everybody at the club has helped me so much.

"I want to get back playing first-team football as soon as possible and show all of those who gave me support that it was worthwhile.

"My contract ends this season, but I want to stay. That means I have to be in the Championship squad and playing.

"Competition is fierce, but I am confident in my ability and fitness is the key now."

With Jordon Mutch almost fit after his niggling foot injury, there is big competition for places in central midfield.

Peter Whittingham, Aron Gunnarsson and Don Cowie are the big-hitters in there, while South Korea international Kim Bo-Kyung can also play through the middle.

Slovakian Filip Kiss and Joe Ralls are both on the outside looking in at the moment, but showed last season that they are more than capable.

"That's the way it should be at any club who are working towards success," said McPhail.

"There is a huge amount of talent here now, more than at any stage since I came to the club. My aim is to play a more central role and the only way to do that is to show I am fit and ready for Championship football."

Given what he has been through in his time at Cardiff, don't bet against McPhail doing exactly that.

CAPTION(S):

A disconsolate Stephen McPhail is substituted early on against Northampton back in August - his last start for Cardiff
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 1, 2012
Words:961
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