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Saturday, 20 September 2014

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I never stopped believing, says recalled Carlisle Utd winger Andy Welsh

In this month of renewal here is another Carlisle United player looking to banish the past. Like Rory Loy, Andy Welsh is running away from injury – in his case, damage to his pride.

Andy Welsh photo
Andy Welsh

Two starts after many months as an unused sub will always go down as baby steps in a player’s comeback. Welsh has spent too long in the margins to assume the outlook is suddenly clear again.

But the opportunity to speak to Welsh as a first-team player at all feels like an unexpected surprise, the way things have gone for the former Yeovil winger in most of his time at Carlisle.

A victim of the managerial cold shoulder for the first five months of 2012/13, Welsh has suddenly totted up starts against Scunthorpe and Tranmere and hopes to complete a hat-trick of outings when Stevenage visit Brunton Park this Saturday.

The chance to delve into how Welsh has been feeling these last couple of sunnier weeks, and in his long time in exile, is now irresistible, and the 29-year-old, always a thoughtful speaker, is happy to oblige.

“Football’s a strange game at times,” says Welsh, a devout Catholic who has relied on his faith during his spell out of Abbott’s team. “I really can’t explain what’s gone on in the last six months.

“But I have trusted and had faith in God that things would turn around, and they have done. I’ve been involved in a 1-0 win and a 1-1 draw, hopefully now I’m in the manager’s thoughts and I can stay there to the end of the season.”

With Carlisle’s left side staffed by the impressive Matty Robson and the popular Chris Chantler – whose ankle injury has opened the gate to Welsh – retaining his spot until the end of April will be no easy job. But to be in with a puncher’s chance of more appearances still represents a happier outlook, in a season when he seemed to be drifting silently towards the exit door.

Did Welsh himself begin to think his future lay away from Brunton Park?

“Without a doubt,” he replies. “I think that goes without saying. Everyone would probably question if I hadn’t thought about my future. I know I need to play football, the manager knows that as well.

“But it was the case that, with my wife and daughter, we moved up to Carlisle and everything had to be right. I felt it was the right thing to keep my head down, keep working hard and have faith that things would turn.”

While most of the attention since the Tranmere victory has rightly been on goalscorer Loy and his long return to fitness after a broken leg, the eternal substitute must also fight hard to stay upbeat – especially one as experienced as Welsh.

Stopping the mind from sinking into darkness is easier to say than to achieve. Other than his faith, Welsh says his shield against the difficult times was a long-ingrained ethic towards his profession.

“People don’t see that side of the game, do they?” says the former Sunderland and Leicester player. “People obviously look at footballers and think of the money, the thousands and thousands of pounds, but the reality is I’m a League One player.

“I’ve been up at the Premiership level, everyone strives to be there. I know what it takes to get there. Sitting there on the bench week-in, week-out isn’t going to get me there.

“That was difficult for me to take, but I knew moaning about it wasn’t going to get me anywhere. The only way was to work hard in the [reserve] games I’ve been involved in, and in training each day.”

It also goes without saying that Welsh’s predicament has led him to the manager’s door since August, but not, he insists, with any great regularity, or urgency. “We have had conversations,” he says, “but sometimes talking doesn’t get you anywhere in life.

“At the end of the day, the past six months have gone. I didn’t get an opportunity but I’m getting one now and that’s drawn a line under it. I know that every time I get a chance I’ve got to work as hard as anyone, if not doubly so, and hopefully that’s what I showed at Tranmere.

“I’m enjoying every minute, but I don’t want to get myself too hyped up because you never know what’s around the corner. Basically I’ve always prided myself on being professional, making sure I’m doing my running and things like that.

“I haven’t played all season yet I feel really fit when I’m on the pitch. There are still little bits of rustiness there in terms of match sharpness, but fitness-wise I’m feeling great. [At Tranmere] I did five or six box-to-box runs in the space of a 10-minute period.

“I always heard older pros saying ‘make sure you keep looking after yourself’. I took heed of that when I was younger.”

It is alarming to think that the player signed with so much optimism in the summer of 2011 has still only made eight Carlisle starts. His first Blues goal remains unscored. Clearly, there is a long road to travel before Welsh can be considered a regular and productive part of United’s attack.

But there are certainly worse ways to advance your cause than by helping Abbott’s troops to a 1-0 victory against the League One leaders. The feeling when Welsh began to chat through events at Prenton Park was that he was thrilled to be able to do so at all.

“Not many have done that to Tranmere this year,” he says of the Wirral win. “I think the way that we pressed as a front four – myself, Jon-Paul [McGovern], Rory and Lee [Miller] really helped us get the win in terms of closing them down, not letting them settle on the ball. I think it helped the back four to get up as well. Early on, me and Matty knew we had to get tight on [Adam] McGurk. I don’t think he really had a sniff, likewise on the other side with JP and Frank [Simek]; they were frustrating the other Tranmere lads. That was a key area of the game.”

Welsh, in Abbott’s re-jigged 4-4-2 system, often linked up with Loy on Tranmere’s bobbly pitch and was delighted to see his team-mate on the scoresheet for the first time since 2011. “For Rory it’s fantastic,” he says. “I’ve been playing in the reserves and seen him come on in games for 25 minutes, against Penrith for example, I’ve seen him work his way back, and to be on the pitch when he scored such a great goal was great. I’m delighted for him, everyone is. He’ll just go from strength to strength now.”

But can Welsh? It’s impossible to know at this stage, but for the moment it is enough to know that nobody will be looking forward more keenly to Saturday afternoon and Stevenage.

“Bring it on, that’s what I say,” he smiles. “I came to Carlisle 18 months ago and a lot of people were wishing me well. To come off the back of playing every game at Yeovil, to not playing at Carlisle... I’m not going to lie, it’s hurt me.

“But now I am playing and I want to repay the nice messages everyone gave me when I first came. People haven’t seen a lot of me and I’d like to show them what I can do.”

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