The Chelsea defender missed out on the Euro 2012 finals in Poland and Ukraine with a broken jaw suffered in the final warm-up international against Belgium at Wembley. Cahill acknowledges he faces a four-man fight with John Terry, Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott for a place in Friday's World Cup qualifier in Moldova. But at least Cahill believes he is now a genuine contender rather than merely making up the squad numbers and has overcome the doubters with his performances for Chelsea after his move from Bolton.
He said: "There were times when I travelled with England - 10 or 11 times - when I didn't even get on the pitch. "I was in the stand a lot of the time and only getting called in when people could not make it or were out.
"I suppose doing that makes you appreciate it a bit more when you do get a chance. Now the fact I feel I can fight for a place is pleasing." Cahill admitted: "The Champions League experience with Chelsea pushed me on and made me learn. I think it gave me a chance to play in the big games that people could say I had not played in. "That was the main thing. People would say I was okay but hadn't played in the big games. It gave me an opportunity to do that.
"Many of the players who don't come from the big clubs have always got that, 'can he do it in the big games?'
"Certainly coming from Bolton, I was not playing in the Champions League and that was always going to be a question mark over my head. "It was nice to answer that, in a way, at the back end of last year. "That experience brought me on but also made me more hungry because I just want to be part of more games like that. It drives you on even more."
Cahill watched England's Euro 2012 campaign on holiday in Spain and admits it was a painful experience - not because of their performances but through the nature of his injury setback. He said: "It was just a freak thing. Running into Joe Hart is not the best person to chose. I probably should have run into Ashley Young or somebody like that! "I went away, but it is awkward when you struggle to clean your teeth and are just eating a soft food diet. It was painful at times, as well so it wasn't ideal.
"Luckily they did not have to do a big operation. It was just a minor thing where they kept everything in place until it was set back where it should be." Cahill knows he has a battle to regain his England spot after the form of Lescott during the Euros but rejects the claim he had mixed emotions about his direct replacement performing so well. He said: "I think it would be a bit cruel to say that. You would never wish for one of your professionals to come in and do badly - not by any means.
"Because I could not play, it didn't mean I didn't want somebody else to come in and do well. "I thought that was one of the positives from the Euros that defensively we did really well which obviously makes my job now a bit harder. "I couldn't make the impact I wanted to in the tournament because I did not go, so it is harder now to fight my way back into a starting position. "That's because of the quality of the players. I have got to fight now to get myself back involved."
England will have to contend with a less than perfect pitch in the Zimbru Stadium in Chisinau on Friday. Cahill said: "It is going to be difficult. The conditions over there are meant to be really bad. "We are going over there to train on the pitch because it is not great. We have been made aware that conditions probably won't be what we are used to. "But we will see that first hand when we train there on Thursday."