THE announcement over George Thorne’s departure from Oxford United will have surprised no-one, but it was a reminder of just how cruel football can be at times.

Those at the club will remember his dedication, but despite everyone being desperate to make the move work he leaves having played for less than three hours of first-team football.

Next week marks a year since the midfielder arrived on loan, hoping to bury his injury issues and show he could still play.

The U’s had taken a punt bringing him in from Derby County. They knew he had played just three times in 17 months, but they were equally aware even a half-fit Thorne would stand out in League One – and if they could get him firing on all cylinders it could make all the difference.

In his signing interview the 26-year-old was surprisingly edgy for someone so experienced. It was clear this was a big moment after such a long, painful time in the wilderness.

But there was an intensity too when he did fleetingly make eye-contact, showing an unmistakable determination to do whatever it took to make the move a success.

“The best thing for me is to go and play and remind everyone what I’m capable of,” he said.

After a couple of cameo appearances off the bench as he found his feet, the big chance arrived in the Carabao Cup against West Ham in September.

While for everyone connected with the U’s will remember the night fondly, for Thorne it was a disaster.

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  • George Thorne stood out against West Ham before suffering a dislocated shoulder    Picture: David Fleming

Handed his first start, the midfielder looked hugely promising as he pulled the strings against top-flight opposition. But after 23 minutes, a challenge with Carlos Sanchez left him in a heap.

The outcome was a dislocated shoulder and more months of rehabilitation.

It was rotten luck. Had he suffered a recurrence of a knee problem there might have been some logic, but this out of the blue was something else entirely. Completely unfair.

Sent back to square one, Thorne began the slow, all-too familiar grind back to fitness, by which time his loan at United had run out.

But his attitude had impressed, becoming a popular member of the camp and he engineered an exit from Derby in January to re-sign for the U’s. It saw him virtually playing for free, such was his desire to make it work.

“The man deserves a break and I’m a big believer in giving people another opportunity,” Robinson said. “I really hope we can kick-start his career.”

Again there was a slow process of getting him back up to speed and an acknowledgement he wasn’t going to play every week.

But as an impact player Thorne could have been a valuable ace up Robinson’s sleeve in the run-in. Half his total minutes at United came in the heavy home wins against AFC Wimbledon and Accrington Stanley in February, but he never got the chance to build on them.

The suspension of the season following the coronavirus outbreak halted his progress and the limited preparation time for the play-offs meant pushing players’ fitness in a way which would not have suited the former England Under 19 international.

At 27, Thorne counts towards the new salary cap and would be a luxury United could not afford, so they had little choice but to reluctantly move on.

All at the club will have their fingers crossed he can get back to what he does best. If anyone deserves a break, it’s him.