INJURY-HIT Noel Whelan has vowed to battle back from the hamstring hell which has blighted his return to football with Darlington.

He hopes to return in a month to boost Quakers’ fight against relegation.

Which is what Whelan believed he was doing when he was sent on as a substitute against Northampton on Tuesday.

But less than three minutes later the striker was hobbling back to the dug-out.

He had been rigorously warming-up on the sidelines, even using an exercise bike, but the substitute had to be substituted after attempting a short sprint which curtailed his evening.

It marked a disastrous return for the 35-year-old, who had spent three months on the sidelines recovering from the same injury, which was sustained during an aborted debut against Dagenham & Redbridge.

Quakers assistant manager Kevin Richardson revealed yesterday that, despite Whelan’s clear injury problem, the player has a future with the club – if he can recapture his fitness, which is now the former Middlesbrough forward’s aim.

“I’m absolutely devastated,”

admitted Whelan, who was Steve Staunton’s first signing. “I knew the hamstring wasn’t 100 per cent but I’d been training a couple of weeks so I felt I was ready.

“But the dynamics of game situations are totally different to training and in some situations it’s difficult to gauge if you’re ready or not.

“To go on and have to come off within three minutes was embarrassing, all I wanted to do was bury myself.

“It hurts as a footballer because I’ve been working so hard to get back to fitness and to repay the faith shown in me by the gaffer.

“It’s back in the gym now and back to getting the hamstring right, making sure I’m 100 per cent and getting myself fit, but I’m not giving up.

It is a set-back, but I’m determined to play football again this season.”

Until being handed what appears to be a last chance with Darlington, Whelan had not played at professional level since a short spell with Dunfermline in early 2007.

He added: “It’s frustrating because all I want to do is play and to do my bit for the club.

“Steve was good enough to give me another chance and I’m desperate to return the favour and to help Darlington get out of the mess we’re in.

“I’m aiming to be back in four weeks, and anything before then would be a bonus."