LOUIS Dunne is nearing full fitness following his long-term injury lay-off, according to John McGreal.

But the Colchester United head coach says the talented 20-year-old now needs to overcome the 'mental barrier', before he starts pushing for a first-team place.

Dunne returned to match action last month after a nine-month lay-off following knee surgery, after coming on as a substitute in the under-23s' game at Coventry City in Professional Development League Two.

The Republic of Ireland under-18 international, who made his senior debut for Colchester in March 2016, has since gone on to feature in four further games for Kevin Horlock's side and has been training with the first team, at Florence Park.

McGreal is pleased with the progress Dunne is making - but says the U's academy product now needs to be psychologically ready for the big step up to senior action.

McGreal said: “Louis has been out for nine months and he’s only up to a certain level.

“Tony (Flynn) and Alec in the physio room have been picking and choosing which way we can go with him, in terms of minutes.

“He’s had a couple of sessions with the first team and has found it a little bit tough because of the speed of it.

“Physically he’s fine but I think now, it’s more the mental barrier.

“He scored a fantastic free-kick (against Millwall under-23s) and that will only give him a lot of confidence on the mental side of things, as well."

Dunne has been sidelined for much of the calendar year, having ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in training in January.

But he is slowly building up his match time and played for 73 minutes in Colchester's last under-23 game, a 3-2 home defeat at the hands of Watford at the JobServe Community Stadium on Monday night.

It was hot on the heels of him playing an hour for the U's under-23 side in their game against their Millwall counterparts last week, where he scored a fine free-kick.

Writing in the club's matchday programme for the U's home game against Swindon last weekend, head physio Tony Flynn said: "We are hopefully coming to the end of speaking about him in injury terms.

"He started the game against Millwall (last) Tuesday and played 60 minutes without any adverse reactions.

"This is a big milestone, because there are psychological and physical hurdles to playing that long for the first time.

"When he goes out again after half-time, he has to be mentally strong in thinking that his knee will be fine and physically strong enough to get through another 15 minutes or so.

"No chances can be taken though - if he had felt any discomfort, either at half-time or at any time after, we would have called it a day and gone again in the next fixture.

"It's been nine months getting to this point, another week or so isn't going to make a difference.

"Thankfully, he breezed through with flying colours and scored a fantastic free-kick."