For Ipswich Town fans, the buzz around promotion will take a long time to wear off, but the players are fully focused on the upcoming Premier League campaign.

The first-team squad returned to Playford Road to do some light work this week ahead of the start of pre-season. That’s when the real work will begin, and striker George Hirst is looking forward to it.

Nonetheless, there’s still a special feeling when he thinks back to what his side achieved, returning to the top flight of English football after 22 years away.

“It’s definitely sunk in a little bit more now,” he told Town TV. “Obviously the first few weeks were pure celebrations and stuff like that, now you can chill out a bit, sit back and enjoy what we’ve done a little bit more than we’ve done before.

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“It’s been nice to look back on and think about how the season went, how it ended up and how we got there throughout it. It’s been a nice couple of weeks.

“You start to see things on social media. You look at the league table and see Ipswich Town in there, you begin to realise it’s actually a reality. It’s just about enjoying the off-season but doing the bits of work that we need to do and the bits of work that the club want us to be doing to be in the best shape possible to come back and have a real good go this season.

“It’s slowly starting to sink in a little bit.”

The season as a whole was ‘very mixed’ for the striker, who managed to bag seven goals and six assists in just 26 league games.

George HirstThe 25-year-old completed his permanent move to Portman Road in July 2023 (Image: PA)

The reason he only played 1783 minutes is because of a hamstring injury suffered in the 1-1 draw against former club Leicester City on Boxing Day, although he was able to return in the final week of the campaign to help his side over the line.

“Personally, to end the season like that, it clouds everything else out,” he argued. “The goods, the bads, before that it’s almost irrelevant. The way we ended the season was absolutely wicked.

“For me, going into the first game of the season, I’d never scored a goal in the Championship. I felt like I had such a lot to prove. I had two seasons in the Championship prior to that and never scored.

“To go and do that in the first game of the season, I felt that was a lot of pressure off my shoulders. It set me up going into the rest of the season.

“I think my return, having been out for four months, was pretty good. I was pretty happy with it come the end of the season and I know that, had I been fit for the four months I missed, I’m sure I would’ve added to that.”

Looking back at that injury and the lengthy lay-off that followed, most players would have nothing but negative memories. After all, Hirst missed out on some huge games that he surely would’ve loved to have played in.

Yet he can also take the positives, having used his time wisely to build up strength ahead of his return to action.

“It was tough,” he admitted. “I didn’t want to go off [v Leicester], and as you probably saw, I tried to carry on. The second I stepped back on the pitch I knew I had absolutely no chance.

George HirstHirst injured his hamstring in the 1-1 draw against Leicester City on Boxing Day (Image: Ross Halls)

“It’s one of those things. It’s probably the first bad injury I’ve had in my entire career, so to get to 24, 25 and to not have anything that serious was nice. Hopefully that’s the last one for the rest of my career.

“I learned a lot. I took it as a blessing in disguise because it gave me a chance to do work in the gym that otherwise I wouldn’t have had the time or chance to focus on. It’s hard when you’re training day in, day out.

“You’ve got gym sessions, of course you do, but you never do them to the extent that you’d like because, at the end of the day, you’ve got a game coming up and you don’t want to kill yourself in the gym when you’ve got a game on the Saturday.

“It was nice to have four months to go and do that properly and not have to worry about a game and whether I’ll be alright for training the next day. If I come in and I feel sore, it doesn’t matter because I’m only back in the gym anyway.

“It was a learning curve, it was a blessing in disguise for me. To come back and get on the scoresheet as soon as I did was a lovely feeling.

“When I first got injured, I thought that was the season done. I thought that was pretty guaranteed, but if we ended up in the play-offs that there was a chance that I could feature in that. Even then, that wasn’t guaranteed.

“I went to see the surgeon six weeks after the operation and he told me how good it looked. From that day on, I came back in and I was a bit pushier with the fact that I needed to be back for this date.

“Obviously I respect the physios and everything massively here. They were telling me it might not be possible, I was arguing that it was. They were there, I was here, and you sort of come back in the middle.

HirstIt took the striker less than 20 minutes to score in his first match back from injury (Image: PA)

“It was nice to come back earlier than expected and contribute in the last few games. It was massive.”

The time for Hirst to reflect on last season is over. His focus is on the Premier League, and he’s excited for the challenge of competing against some of the best clubs in the world.

“It’s the biggest step up than anyone’s ever had really, especially in our team,” he said. “It’s the kind of thing you want to go and do, and we did it from League One to the Championship so we’re hoping to go and have a real good go next season as well.

“There’s no reason why we can’t, it’s all in our own hands. I know all the boys are excited, waiting for that first day of pre-season when you come in and see the different footballs, you’ve got different badges on the shirts, all that sort of stuff.

“Then it feels like we’re really part of it, and then it’s just about working. That gets forgotten about quite quickly, so from then on, it’s just the same as always. You go out, train, come in, gym, repeat it for another 10 months and see where you end up.”