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Friday, 25 July 2014

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The future is more relevant to me than the past, says Carlisle Utd's Rory Loy

A moustache is sprouting nicely on Rory Loy’s top lip. Movember, the facial hair charity movement, is under way at Brunton Park again. It is one of many things which makes you realise how long it has been.

Rory Loy photo
Rory Loy

Loy’s commitment to the tache-growing cause is a sight that takes you right back to the late months of 2011, when the striker was making merry in Carlisle’s team whilst sporting similar facial furniture.

Before his career descended into darkness this was the optimistic face that was helping to define United: Loy, the thrusting, left-sided attacker, starting to express himself with dynamic performances and goals.

When Carlisle played at Alfreton in the FA Cup last November they looked like a 1920s throwback team with all those taches. That day’s highlight was a bicycle kick from Loy, who then dropped to the floor before he lifted his head, grinning broadly as team-mates crowded in.

Look at and hear him now and these fun memories seem recent, not a year old. Loy himself begs to differ. “Football moves on so quickly,” he says, talking in Carlisle’s media room for the first time since he broke his leg so badly at Preston, last Boxing Day. “In terms of [the goals I scored] against Sheffield Wednesday and Alfreton, these things get forgotten about. At the beginning when I was injured they were nice to look back on and motivate me to get back playing.

“But three months later I knew there was still another eight months to go. So I preferred to concentrate on getting my legs stronger, and progress. The future is more relevant than the past.”

This has been a long and hard road and it will not be ended until Loy has returned to United’s first-team. Only then will the past be dealt with entirely. But these are more hopeful days than he has known for considerable time.

A 26-minute appearance in the Cumberland Cup is not always a cause for champagne corks to pop but Loy’s outing against Penrith Rangers last week was his first of any competitive kind since David Gray’s fateful tackle at Deepdale, the day after Christmas.

His desire to stop the looking back and drive further on is therefore easy to understand. Yet his welcome comeback game happened 24 hours after he had journeyed back to the scene of his injury, with Greg Abbott’s squad, to watch the rematch between the Blues and North End.

Was that trip (he sat in the dugout, overlooking the spot where he was cut down) made in order to deal with some old demons? Loy insists not. “It was to support the boys,” he says. “It wasn’t a long trip. I’m not going to go to Brentford away, for example, and spend two days on a bus after I’ve been injured like I have.

“But this was just down the road and I wanted to cheer the boys on.” Did it not, though, bring it all back? “Not really. Going back there...there were vague memories of what happened, of getting taken off [on a stretcher], but not massively. Nothing too serious anyway.”

This may be because Loy has explored the moment of his grievous misfortune often enough. The emotional healing process has been as long as the physical repairing. When he talks about it now you can tell it has been analysed a lot, long ago. “I can remember most of it,” he says of the incident. “It always played over in my mind. ‘If only I’d done this or that’. When Thirs [Paul Thirlwell] passed me the ball, I took a touch inside and as they boy [Gray] came through I just knew straight away what had happened.

“I’ve seen a couple of injuries like that on the telly. I looked down and my leg was in bits, really. Not nice.

“Since then the boys really helped me out. Paddy [Madden] made a good point that with the way the ball came to me, I could only have turned inside. There was no room to turn out...so it was the only thing I could have done.”

The truth is that blame is not to be found in any part of Loy’s account of the injury from which he is re-emerging now. Neither does Gray himself have guilt pinned upon him, though Loy does believe the Preston defender, now at Stevenage, could have showed more concern during his months of recuperation.

“I played with David for a spell in the Under-21s in Scotland,” Loy says. “We sent a couple of texts back and forth but nothing of note. If it had been the way round I think I would have made a bit more of an effort, regardless of whether it was a bad tackle or not, just to keep up with how progress was going.

“Disappointing is not the right word, but I think a bit more could have been said in terms of ‘all the best, good luck, how are things going?’ But no.”

This, Loy stresses, is not to be confused with a desire to castigate Gray. The tackle which hurt the 24-year-old so badly was “fair”, he insists.

“Look, it’s a physical game, a contact sport,” he says. “David Gray is a tough player, who likes to let people know they’re in a game. I don’t think for a second there was any intention to break my leg.

“These things happen in football. I don’t feel any bitterness, or aggrieved. Good luck to him. It’s just the way it went.”

The way it went for Loy was into a long period of treatment and rehab which helped to form “the hardest year of my life” and showed him the secret, arduous side of an otherwise fun profession. Then came a pre-season setback, just as he was hoping to spring back into action. Another 18-week spell away from the pitch followed.

How this felt all pours out as he takes questions and deals with them in detail, and earnestly. The difficulty of remaining upbeat during such a trying time is explained vividly. The “mental torture” suffered by a character type who “overthinks things” is explored openly. Hence, in some ways, the heartfelt thanks he reserves for the people who helped him in this arduous quest.

“Family kept me going throughout everything,” he says. “My girlfriend helped me through a lot, always there if I wanted to speak about the injury or different things. That’s not easy because I’m constantly overloading them with it.”

United’s physio team of Neil Dalton and Kate Gascoigne are flagged up for their painstaking work to bring him back to competitive health. His former physio at Rangers, Steve Walker, who allowed Loy to use the anti-gravity Alter-G treadmill at Ibrox, also comes in for praise. A spell at the Lilleshall Sports Injury Rehabilitation Centre helped too.

But pain would still come in certain doses. His regular Saturday afternoong glances at social media, such as the mid-game tweets of media officer Andy Hall, have been especially bittersweet.

“I’m sat in my house, looking at Twitter and the pictures of the boys warming up, and that’s hard,” he says. “Hearing they’re doing well and not being part of it. It’s not nice, either, going out of the main entrance [at Brunton Park] and turning left [for the gym] instead of right [for the training pitch].

“It’s been a hard year, and without sounding cliched, it definitely makes you stronger. You start to appreciate training, waking up in the morning and doing the right things. I know my expectations for getting back were too soon and when I didn’t make those deadlines it was tough to deal with. Pre-season was hard, too, because I wasn’t allowed to do anything. I went away for a week but spent it wanting to be here. There were times when I thought, ‘Am I ever going to get back to training every day, feeling good?’ But you’ve just got to keep believing, to listen to the people who know what they’re talking about.”

Understandably he seems more content in himself now that he is back in full training. “Being out that long makes you appreciate how you enjoy going outside, being part of the group,” he says. “Being on the bus, even. I’ve never wanted more to be part of an eight-hour bus journey with the team. It’s the last time I’ll be complaining. Bring on Pompey away.”

A grin accompanies this fantasy of a day-long journey to the south coast in February, by which time Loy will hopefully be in the first-team frame, having picked up the thread that was cut last winter, when he, Lee Miller and JP McGovern were forming an entertaining, all-Scottish attacking three that looked more potent than many previous forward lines for United.

The supporters approved of that, as they clearly do of Loy, given the encouraging messages which have flowed his way this last week and across his long fightback. Not that he heard the cheers from the 152 souls who watched him come off the bench against Penrith last Wednesday.

“My whole mind was on getting through the game, doing things right, protecting myself,” he says. “Everything around me was blurred out. I just wanted to play.

“But, aye, the fans have been great. Going on Twitter, seeing different messages, has been a confidence boost. It’s nice to know I’ve not been forgotten about.”

Abbott, never one to tiptoe around a situation, says the next step in Loy’s progress will be to get “smashed” on his healed leg. Fairly, it should be added – a firm tackle of the one he can expect when back in League One, just to ensure body and mind can cope.

Loy does not disagree. How he handles such a collision will only be known when it comes. And how well he is able to resume a career that looked to be finally airborne last year is now the fascinating unknown, now he is almost back.

“I was at Rangers until I was 23, then I came here, broke into the team, was doing well, then got injured,” he says. “I feel my career is only starting at 24. It may take me to 25 before I’m really past this.

“I’ve massively got the hunger to know how far I can go, and to prove to the manager I’m worth a new contract. To prove I’m like a new signing, and stay in the team.”

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