IMAGINE, if you can for a moment, being struck in the face by a baseball bat. What could be worse? Unfortunately for Ryan Christie, he knows the answer to that question only too well.

The Celtic midfielder was told by the surgeon who operated on him after his sickening collision with Aberdeen’s Dom Ball in the Scottish Cup semi-final last season that his facial injuries were the worst he has ever seen.

As Christie looked back on the incident that ended his campaign and his long road to recovery at Celtic’s training camp in Austria, the physical scars from the trauma are barely visible. Thankfully, the mental scars are now starting to fade too.

“The doc that did it, he has been doing facial surgeries for 20 years or so, and he said it was the worst one he has ever seen,” Christie said.

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“He said that he has treated people who have taken a baseball bat across the face who looked better than me.

“I think that’s why the surgery was over four hours, once they got in they realised it needed a serious bit of work to get it back the way it was. Credit to him, and I’ll forever be grateful to him for the job he has done.

“They had to cut in below my eye, up through my mouth, and into the side of my head. I’ve now got five plates inserted: four of them across my cheek and one down the side of my head. I had a broken eye socket, a broken cheekbone, a broken jaw and a break up the side of my head as well. I’ve somehow managed to get myself fit again.

“The shape I was in at one point it was pretty scary. The doctor spoke to me about how much of a hit I’d taken. He told me of the precautions I’d have to take with it until the concussion had completely gone. I was not to do any physical exertions until that point.

“I still notice it looking in the mirror, but people say to me now that they don’t notice it, which is music to my ears because of the damage that was done.

“There was never going to be any certainty that I’d be fine, but from the state I was in, and with such bad concussion, I went through a couple of weeks when I really worried about it.

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“Luckily, day by day, I started to notice a difference and that settled my head a little bit.”

While it may not now be immediately apparent what Christie has gone through by looking at him, his own vision is still compromised, and will remain so for some time yet.

“When I came out of surgery I had just about zero vision in my left eye,” he said. “But the doctors kept telling me that that would come back eventually, and now it has, so I feel pretty fortunate.

“It’s a wee bit blurry. When I look up I lose vision, just because my eye is now a wee bit off-centre. That can take about 18 months to get back to normal. So, I’ll have to adjust.”

Part of that adjustment will be getting used to the physical aspect of a game situation, with Celtic’s first game of a three-match friendly programme kicking off in Austria last night against SC Pinkafeld.

Speaking prior to the game, Christie was sure that he would be able to block out any natural doubts he may have about throwing himself into a challenge the first time a ball lands between him and a defender.

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“My first day back [in training] I shirked a wee bit from a header, but after that I got fired up, and you just do things out of instinct,” he said. “I’m fine now heading a ball.

“I think I’ll be able to go in full-blooded. We even played a bounce game between ourselves on Saturday, and I was fine in that.

“When you get into that mind-set of a game, everything else goes out the window.

“In training, you might jump out of a challenge or something, but when it’s part of a game you lose all those thoughts and just jump in.”

Christie has certainly jumped into Celtic’s gruelling pre-season training regime with both feet, feeling he is in prime condition to come back and have the sort of impact he managed to have on the team during the last campaign.

“The all clear from the doc came at a good time, just before pre-season, so I haven’t had to miss out on anything,” he said.

“I’m back fully fit and the heat out here will definitely do us good. Another week here outing in good double sessions, we’ll all be raring to go.”