LEE Cattermole says he is relishing the chance to start a fresh campaign with a full pre-season behind him.
The Sunderland skipper is due to step up his fitness and sharpness levels again tonight when he leads the Black Cats out at Victoria Park for Ritchie Humphreys’ testimonial match.
But he says he has been thrilled to have got up a proper run-up to a new season for the first time in years.
“The last three seasons have not been ideal for me in terms of pre-season preparations,” he told the Echo.
“I’ve moved clubs twice in that time, I’ve been involved with England Under 21s over the summer of one season and I’ve had knocks and niggles to contend with.
“So to come through this summer feeling fine from the start has been great.
“I missed a large chunk of last season with a back injury but, touch wood, everything has been great so far with no strains or knocks or anything. “It’s great for me because pre-season is so important in terms of getting you prepared and for someone – if you miss out on a pre-season or even a part of it, you can find yourself playing catch up.
“I’ve never been an injury-prone player in my career but with the setbacks I’ve had since joining Sunderland I feel like I’ve been playing catch up for the better part of 18 months.
“The good thing is that I’ll be ready for the game against Liverpool and by the third or fourth game of the season I should be really firing on all cylinders.” Cattermole and his team-mates will take another step closer to peak fitness when they get they go through their paces against Hartlepool tonight.
It’s a game the captain is looking forward to.
He said: “I know Gary Liddle who plays in midfield for Hartlepool – we were at Middlesbrough at the same time as young lads and we’ve kept in touch so it will be good to catch up with him.
“But tonight’s all about the game and us putting in a good display and stepping things up a notch.
“It’s a good chance for us to show what we’re about to our fans because a lot of them will be making the short journey down the road and it’s important we put in a good performance.
“There can be a lot of travel done in pre-season and I’m pleased that this game is so close to home – both for the players and for the fans. But it won’t be an easy game for us.
“We expect it to be a really competitive game, there’ll be a bit of local pride involved, and League One opposition will make sure it’s difficult for us.”