For someone who’s struggled to find any crumb of luck in the past 12 months, Mark O’Hara is a man full of enthusiasm and positivity.
It hasn’t been without its hardship right enough since Graham Alexander arrived as boss last January. First of all it was a concussion that left him in the treatment room.
After a lengthy recovery from that, the midfielder thought pre-season would be a chance to reset and kick on for this term now fans were back after 2020/21’s lockout.
A hamstring problem thought otherwise but eventually a run in the team came for O’Hara in the Autumn. Again, his injury curse seemed apparent with a quad problem suffered following November’s trip to Pittodrie against Aberdeen.
Just over three months following his knock, a return was made in the Scottish Cup success against November’s foe before a goal in Premiership action against the Dons one week later.
He might be a bit sick of the colour red and Aberdeen by this stage – three of his last four matches coming against Aberdeen – but the goal he scored was a sweet feeling months in waiting.
A one-armed Kevin van Veen and Kaiyne Woolery helped O’Hara in his quest to get it and relief was felt when the Fir Park stands
roared. After months in front of the TV and blood, sweat and tears during his rehab, O’Hara says it was a moment for him to relish.
Part of his latest injury comeback has been credited to his inner circle, who managed to keep his mood high during a period where frustrations began to set in.
“It was good to be back amongst the goals against Aberdeen,” he said. “It is the moment I had been visualising in my head while times were tough. There is no better feeling than scoring.
“So it was a good moment for me to get my name back out on the scoresheet. Kev was playing with one arm for part of the game but he did well to shrug off the defenders and created an opportunity.
“Luckily it fell to my feet and Kaiyne did very well too as he took it down initially. I owe a thanks to them. It was a good time to score and I would have hoped that was the start of us going on to win.
“It wasn’t to be, so I hope there are more goals that lead to three points in the coming games.
“The days were longer (when he was injured) so I hadn’t a chance to pick up any new hobbies or that.
“I was in from after eight to about half-four every day. The days were long and tiring as I worked hard. It was a matter of watching TV and Netflix at night time.
“I enjoyed Stay Close, ‘Don’t F*** With Cats’ was a bit mindblowing. I have a strong group of friends and family. It’s important that you keep your spirits high when you are away from football.
“If you aren’t playing or you have an injury, things can get to you. I had good support groups so I was kept in good spirits while I was out.”
What O’Hara has returned to is a league of finer margins than ever before. Teams from fourth to 10th will fancy their chances of making the top six and potentially a run to European places.
That’s an objective O’Hara is keen to achieve. But there’s another lingering dream living on in the background while fierce competition ensues on the Premiership stage.
For years, fans at Fir Park have sung of a claret and amber ribbon in the merry month of May, without much joy at the end
of it. This year marks 31 years since Motherwell’s last piece of silverware, the 1991 Scottish Cup.
O’Hara hasn’t played at Hampden before and he is keen to have that opportunity by helping his team beat Hibs next weekend in the cup’s quarter-final stage.
The Easter Road side managed to beat Motherwell on penalties last year despite a late comeback from the Steelmen, something that still sits with O’Hara ahead of next week’s contest.
He won’t look too far ahead though, as plenty of crucial Premiership fixtures lie in wait for Alexander’s men. It’s tight, but advancement on two fronts could set up Motherwell for something memorable this season.
“The league is anybody’s in terms of claiming a place in that top six,” O’Hara said. “We will do everything we can to make sure it is us. There are some massive games coming up but every game is at this stage.
“We want to make sure that every game that comes, we will be targeting three points. I don’t ever recall such a small margin separating so many teams. It’s probably exciting for the neutral and people looking in.
“We need to make sure we finish up on a positive note. Our destiny is in our hands. We can potentially have a very special season or we can have a mediocre season. We need to make sure it’s special.
“I want to help the team solidify its place in the top six and make it to Hampden which is something I have never done in my career.
“That Hibs game is massive and perhaps a chance at redemption after they put us out at this stage last year.
“It’s a goal I think for every Scottish player, to make it to Hampden. It’s not something I have managed to achieve yet and I would love to do that with Motherwell.”
O’Hara feels indebted to both clubs taking to the turf at Fir Park today. By the end of this season – barring any more injury concerns – Motherwell will be the club he’s represented most since he left Kilmarnock, but it’s Dundee who helped make him.
After starting at Killie and being played here, there and everywhere in Ayrshire, Dundee manager Paul Hartley made sure O’Hara was to be used in a midfield position.
It’s where he has stayed until this day and outside a stint at centre-back last season, has thrived in claret and amber. O’Hara’s time
at Dens Park was fruitful and it earned him a move to English side Peterborough United.
There have been similarities between his Dens and Fir Park spells, in that he has learned plenty in both stints. It’s something the 26-year-old acknowledges with fondness.
“I loved my time at Dundee and I learnt a lot there,” the ex-Dens battler said. “I spent a couple of seasons there. At Kilmarnock I was used in different positions and was more of a utility man.
“At Dundee, I solidified myself as a midfielder. I learnt a lot from two good managers there in Neil McCann and Paul Hartley. I really enjoyed my time there and it’s been similar to Motherwell in that I have learned from two good managers here too.
“These spells have been good learning curves for me and I hope that they will stand me in good stead.”
With his contract up in the summer, O’Hara’s long-term future is uncertain for the time being.
It’s not something he has had too much time to think about during his rehab and then work back into the Well squad.
His three seasons at Motherwell have all had hitches or disruptions at some stage, which has made it a peculiar time in his career. But
one he has enjoyed all the same.
O’Hara doesn’t expect to just be handed a new deal at Fir Park, he knows he has to play his way there after a spell with injury. The midfielder is in no doubt though that his time in Motherwell has been one he’s very thankful for after initially arriving on loan from Peterborough in 2019.
“This is my third season now,” he added. “It’s been strange as when you say three seasons, that sounds like quite a lot of time. But obviously, one season was disrupted by Covid, then last season was different in terms of there were no fans.
“This season has now been disrupted by injury. I think I have somewhere around 60 appearances and I have enjoyed every minute of it.
“I know that is an old cliché but I genuinely have loved my time here. Hopefully there’s more to come. I have felt pretty settled since I got here.
“I am up and out of contract at the end of the season. With the way the situation was when I was injured, it was difficult to set any long-term goals.
“My goal was to just get playing first and foremost and then just let the football take care of itself. I have not been offered anything as such yet but I am obviously trying to play well to earn it.
“I feel as if I have to make up for lost time and between now and the end of the season, I want to perform as well as I can and help the team earn success.”