Having joined from Middlesbrough in July 2019 as a crucial component of Cardiff City’s promotion mission following an immediate relegation from the Premier League, Aden Flint had been christened as a statement of intent from the moment he donned the club's iconic blue strip.
After all, he carried a weight of experience in his stride, which had took him from the rigours of non-league football with boyhood side Alfreton Town to a second-tier stalwart at the heart of Bristol City's defence- and during his time with the Robins, he had roared and rallied.
Impressively, Flint had managed to chalk up 19 goals across three Championship seasons with Bristol City, which served to ignite a flame of unbridled optimism among Cardiff supporters, and despite a notable statistical and overall performance drop-off at the Riverside, it was still believed that a top operator was enforcing the ranks.
It wasn’t to be
It only took the juggernaut two matches to announce, endear and illuminate his presence in Wales. After a 3-2 opening day defeat at Wigan Athletic, Cardiff hosted Luton Town on a sun-soaked Saturday afternoon, where their new signing incited bedlam by opening the scoring.
They would go on to win the match 2-1 and it looked, during that moment, that much-needed gusto and rhythm was being generated, for both Flint and Cardiff.
However, it was not to be.
Results soon declined, the often one-dimensional brand of football stagnated and the atmosphere turned sour, resulting in the mutual decision for Cardiff and famed promotion-orchestrating manager Neil Warnock to part ways on the 11th November, just one day after they had slumped to a 1-0 defeat at home to Bristol City.
Neil Harris promptly took to the helm in tandem, and while it was always going to be a testing transition for the squad after embedding to Warnock's ethos, none perhaps found the change in the dugout more difficult than Flint.
He soon found himself out of favour, with Harris alternatively adopting a reliable centre-back pairing of Sean Morrison and Curtis Nelson. It left Flint on the periphery, and though City were basking in euphoria during their expedition to the play-off semi-finals that year, his role in the team was dwindling at an increasing rate.
By October, he was deemed surplus to requirements and packed his bags for a season-long loan at Sheffield Wednesday.
His time with the Owls was brief, too; only four appearances had been chalked up on the board before a serious hamstring injury sustained away to Rotherham United sought to suspend Flint's quest for regular minutes, and when January rolled around, he was back with Cardiff continuing his recovery.
During that time, City found themselves in a real conundrum, and a string of concerning defeats had unsurprisingly resulted in the decision to sack Harris, opening the door for Mick McCarthy to take over the team and attempt to integrate his well-versed philosophy.
A change of fortunes
McCarthy would prove to be Flint's awakening.
His tendency to play for set-pieces and utilise aerial duels, particularly going forward, meant that the seemingly castaway defender was immediately bookmarked as a staple of his side and against all odds, he started each game.
Playing in a newly-constructed back five, Flint embraced an astronomical resurgence. The additional cover within the backline allowed a noticeable lack of pace to not be exposed quite so much, while it meant that Cardiff could now field three accomplished defenders in Flint, Morrison and Nelson.
Of course, it had been viewed as a gamble at the time. Here was a player who had seldom impressed for the large part of his tenure with the club, had been cast off by the previous manager and was bound to be lacking in match sharpness after his injury blows in South Yorkshire.
In addition, Cardiff were yet to operate with this system and supporters were left wondering if it would yield the success required to stay afloat, such were the lingering worries mounting at that time.
But under McCarthy's tuition, fears were extinguished, the morale was elevated and most importantly, a winning mentality was instilled. Following inaugural draws against Barnsley and Gary Rowett's Millwall, the Bluebirds engineered an emphatic nine-match unbeaten run, which would see them record monumental victories over Bristol and Bournemouth in the process.
The best was yet to come, though, as it was time to head to town to face their nemesis.
In terms of the fierce South Wales Derby between Swansea City and Cardiff, recent fortunes had been unforgiving for the latter.
Only in December had a Jamal Lowe brace sunk the Bluebirds at the Cardiff City Stadium, coming after a 1-0 win for the Jack Army in the 2019-20 campaign, too.
They had not tasted the ecstasy of victory over their rivals in over seven years and it was universally recognised as a crucial mission call to get three points at the Liberty Stadium, with the season heading into a close.
It only took eight minutes for dreams to come alive, as Flint's domineering header found its way past a helpless Freddie Woodman and into the back of the net.
From there, Cardiff encapsulated magnificent resilience, structure and steel to competently defend a Swansea onslaught and held out to clinch a deserved 1-0 win- and Flint was at the very heart of it. It was, quite simply, the perfect comeback.
Not just was it the perfect renaissance for Cardiff, though, it shared that very notion for Flint.
On the up
Seamlessly transforming from a City outcast to a bonafide cult hero, Flint demonstrated how to revitalise from the varying curveballs that football- or, better still, sport as a whole will throw in your pathway.
He has overcame adversity and arduous hurdles to become one of Cardiff's key players and as McCarthy targets a serious promotion bid this term, Flint will no doubt be key all season long.
By all accounts, the license of trust has continued to be repaid; Flint's brace away to Peterborough United in midweek overturned a two goal deficit, before he went on to raise his tally to four for the week by nodding home twice in a 3-1 victory over Millwall.
His goal threat is a serious asset in this Cardiff side who often play a direct brand of football, and even more so when they boast Ryan Giles within their ranks- a player quickly earning more and more plaudits following an impressive start to life on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Radiating an invaluable sense of youthful endeavour alongside dynamism and technical brilliance on the left flank for the Bluebirds, Giles is an expert crosser, displayed by an encouraging outlay of four assists at the time of writing.
One would expect that figure to significantly rise throughout the campaign with players such as Flint, Morrison, Marlon Pack and, of course, star striker Kieffer Moore.
The approach suits this Cardiff squad down to the ground and it is little wonder that the rewards are being reaped, especially from Flint's perspective.
He will now be looking to translate his experience, know-how and expertise to a younger generation beginning to tread water at the club, having cemented his worth more than most over the years.
New signing Mark McGuinness from Arsenal is an individual who could certainly benefit from the presence of such a seasoned defender, while 23-year old Ciaron Brown is another that will certainly be hoping to inherit those much needed qualities in the long run.
Thankfully, though, at long last, the trials and tribulations have been accomplished. Success has been achieved. Importance has been solidified. Over two years on from making the switch, Flint has finally reached the summit he intended to at Cardiff and no doubt, he is going to be paramount this year, at both ends of the pitch.