Brave. Gutsy. Courageous. Heroic.
Those were just some of the words used to sum up Michael Timlin’s act of defiance last week as the midfielder helped Southend United on their way to Wembley, just mere days after suffering a sickening and horrific head injury that could have been career threatening.
Southend battled to a 1-1 draw away at Stevenage in the first-leg of their League Two Play-Off Semi-Final last Sunday, but the game itself was overshadowed by a stomach-churning aerial collision which saw Timlin sustain a gruesome gash above his eye and Boro skipper Bira Dembele laid out cold.
Timlin required no less than fifteen stiches to patch up his war wound with an extended spell on the sidelines likely, but, no less than four days later, the fearless midfielder took to the pitch at Roots Hall as The Shrimpers looked to avoid play-off heartbreak.
Sporting Petr Cech-style head protection, Timlin put in a typically all-action and courageous display as he jumped for headers, went in for challenges and his hustle and bustle approach ensured Stevenage never settled.
Fitting then, that after second-half sub Stephen McLaughlin had fired the home side into a 2-1 lead following Barry Corr’s missed penalty in stoppage time, Timlin showed grace and finesse in abundance to waltz through the beleaguered Stevenage backline before drilling home a composed finish to book Southend’s place at Wembley and send Root Hall into raptures.
But, then, anyone who has followed the 30-year-old’s career with interest should not be at all surprised by those exploits.
Broken leg, serious shoulder and elbow injuries, a stint in prison – and that’s just from Timlin’s time with Southend.
In truth, the former Fulham man has always displayed those battling qualities, that never-say-die attitude was evident and plain for all to see from the very moment Timlin first pulled on a Swindon Town shirt in his debut against Bury way back in 2006.
Despite his time at The County Ground coming to an end in less than savoury circumstances – a supposed fall-out with then boss Paolo Di Canio was rumoured to be behind the midfielder’s exit – 136 appearances for the Robins ensure that Timlin’s love affair with Swindon Town still burns bright.
So, to say that the former Republic of Ireland international is chuffed to see his old side one game away from the Championship would be a massive understatement, but more on that later.
First, FLIC SPORT talked to Timlin on a gloomy Tuesday afternoon to get the lowdown on what has been one of the most eventful weeks in the box-to-box midfielder’s career.
“It was up and down emotions really because it was only until the day before that I was actually cleared to be able to play, my eye had completely closed up and the swelling was quite bad, so I wasn’t even sure if I was going to play,” Timlin said.
“It was only the day before the game that I managed to get the swelling down and the manager gave me the all-clear, so it was a relief to be able to play in the game first of all.
“But, as the game unfolded and we went a goal down, getting back to square one, missing a penalty and then actually going on to win the game with myself scoring at the end, it was a fantastic feeling.
“But, more importantly, it was a great feeling to beat Stevenage and get to the final.
“It was a classic game for the neutrals – it had everything in it – it had clashes, it had tackles, it had the penalty miss, it had other penalty shouts, it had goals and it was very entertaining.
“It went to extra-time as well so it was quite entertaining for everyone to be watching, it was quite stressful during the game at times but thankfully our quality came through and we were able to go on and win the game.”
As has been the case throughout his career, Timlin was never likely to let a gash – no matter how serious – deter him from playing his natural game, despite pleas from his team-mates to calm down and tone it down a shade or two.
“There were times during the second-leg where some of the players were actually telling me ‘don’t go in for that, don’t go in for this,’ but the way I am, I’m a whole-hearted kind of player so whenever the opportunity was there to go in for a header or to go in for a tackle, I was never going to stop.
“I think you’ve always got to play with that kind of style, because if you second guess whether to go in or not, then I think that’s generally when you might really come out with a bad injury.
“There were never any doubts in myself over the way I was going to apply myself in a game.
“Thankfully I was able to get through the game and help the team out by getting the result we needed.”
Timlin endeared himself to The County Ground faithful during his six-season stay in Wiltshire, with his high-tempo showings and an ability to slice open a defence with a pinpoint pass making him an instant fans’ favourite.
Having left SN1 with a very heavy heart, Timlin has always kept a close eye on the latest goings on at his old club and he’s keeping his fingers crossed that he has cause for a double celebration come 8pm on Sunday evening.
“That would be the perfect scenario for us to win and for Swindon to win,” added Timlin.
“I’m absolutely delighted to see Swindon get to the final, they’ve had a fantastic season under Mark Cooper and they play such fantastic attacking football.
“It’s fantastic to see Nathan and Louis Thompson doing really, really well – Nathan was part of the first-team when I was there and Louis was a youngster, but I could see back then that they were both going to be very good players.
“It’s a great achievement for Swindon because it’s such a good town and it’s what they need – the club needs to be back in the higher leagues.
“Cooper has got to have a special mention because he’s changed the club’s fortunes around, he’s steadied the ship, he’s embraced the atmosphere and the style of play down there and I think they’ve become a better club for it.”