'You should probably retire': How Djulbic ignored the odds to make rapid injury return

When Perth Glory defender Dino Djulbic fell to the turf with a ruptured ACL in last season's Hyundai A-League Grand Final, there was only one thought in his head: get up, get back and defend.

It’s the never-say-die mentality that has been ingrained in Djulbic's DNA throughout his career.

It's that mindset which helped the veteran defender not only push through the pain barrier on that night but in the ensuing months, leading to his miraculous return to action in Round 1 of the 2019/20 campaign.

“Once I landed and came back down I could feel something went,” Djulbic told a-league.com.au.

“I was thinking in my head ‘surely it’s not happening now’. I was on the floor and I remember turning around and I could see Sydney having a counter attack.

“I was like ‘oh no, I better get up and start running and chasing back because I’d probably get in trouble with the boss for laying on the floor'.

“So I got up and just started limping around, it didn’t feel the greatest but I managed to get into a sprint, and from then on I think the adrenaline just took over.

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“I could feel pain but I’ve got a really high threshold of pain management which always helps, and I just continued.

“I guess that was the adrenaline really, and the desire. I didn’t show any weakness or any sense of facial expression of the pain because I saw the boss send someone to warm up.

“I managed to hide all the feelings and pain so the boss didn’t realise until the next day."

Glory eventually fell to Sydney FC on penalties that night in May at Optus Stadium, relinquishing their best chance at a Championship in the Hyundai A-League era.

It was a bitter pill to swallow for Djulbic, made all the worse by the diagnosis of his injury.

Dino Djulbic
Dino Djulbic carries the ball in the 2018/19 Hyundai A-League Grand Final.

“The Grand Final last year, yeah, it’s still a sore point obviously,” Djulbic said.

“Losing to Sydney on penalties, and I got injured as well (doing) my ACL in the 60th minute, I managed to play through it but the bad news came after.

“The next day finding out that it is actually the ACL, there were a lot of things in the air for me at that stage.

“It was a very big decision because I’m 36 and I’ve never had a big injury like that, I didn’t know what to expect exactly.

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“A lot of people say you should probably retire...I said I didn’t really want to retire on something like an injury.”

Unwilling to retire or go under the knife , Djulbic looked for alternative options.

Out of contract and facing 12 months of post-operative recovery, the veteran centre-back sought advice on the alternative routes to take to accelerate his return to full fitness.

“Speaking to the boss (Glory Head Coach Tony Popovic) and the club they were very, very supportive of whichever way I wanted to take this,” Djulbic said.

“My meeting with the boss I said straight away ‘I want to play, I want to continue to play, I feel good’.

“He said ‘look, I want you here at the club and we’ll support you with whatever needs to be done’, and they did.

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“I went to the surgeon and he said ‘you’ve got to have surgery and you’ll be out for 12 months’.

“I said ‘that’s great, but what are the other options...how about I don’t have surgery?’

“He said ‘I’m not sure about that’, but I said I wanted to try it, I did some research about it and I know it’s something a lot of people succeeded (with).

“He said ‘why don’t you try it, we’ll go for a month and see how it goes?’

And so Djulbic got to work, with his sights firmly set on securing a new contract at the Glory and atoning for last season’s Grand Final heartbreak.

WATCH: Djulbic almost scores in the Grand Final

But there was always one driving factor inspiring him the most as he set off on his unique path to recovery.

“The funny thing is I had my kids at home and was talking to them, saying ‘Daddy might not play again’,” Djulbic said.

“My daughter and son had the Glory song (on) every day from YouTube, the (Steve) Armstrong old Glory song.

“(They were) going around the house singing 'Glory, Glory Perth Glory' and I’m going ‘oh my God, how am I going to tell my kids I might not be playing again?’

“That was a big driving factor for me.

“I opted to do something different and go without surgery with the hope to be back in January or December.

“I was never really one that shies off hard work, I love hard work.

“It was one of those things I said ‘just blank it out and just go and work hard’, so I think short of three months (after the injury) I started training with the team.

“Here I am now six months (after), I’ve been involved, I’ve played a couple of games, full training and I haven’t missed a session yet. So far so good.”

Djulbic has featured twice so far for Popovic off the bench throughout Glory’s first five games of the Hyundai A-League 2019/20 Season and will be hoping to be called upon once again when his side face Sydney FC on Saturday night.

Djulbic Round 1
Djulbic featured off the bench for Popovic against Brisbane in Round 1.

It’s the first time Glory have come up against the Sky Blues since Steve Corica’s side travelled to Perth to steal the Championship from their clutches.

The physical and mental pain from that night has left a lasting imprint on both Djulbic's body and mind, but he says the gruelling work he has put in on the training track ever since has him raring to go for the Grand Final rematch.

“To finish my career on a loss, it wasn’t really an option,” Djulbic said.

“I’m a big winner, for me (I’d do) anything just to win really.

“Obviously this weekend we’re playing  Sydney, it’s a big game. I don’t say it’s a revenge (game) because we’re playing now for three points.

“They got the better of us on that day but you want to play big teams and big games, so I’m really looking forward to the game.

“I want to win all the games, it doesn’t matter if it’s Sydney or anyone else.

“It’s a big thing for me, I’m a big believer in winning, I haven’t had the opportunity before to win things and when the boss arrived all those things changed.

“That’s another reason I wanted to be a part of it, he was staying here and he wanted me to be part of the team.”