It was pretty much the only question – footballing or otherwise – that Morgan Feeney struggled to address.

“I don’t know…I think that’s for someone else to answer.”

The question had invited Feeney to describe what sort of captain he is. It felt fair to ask after the centre-half had been entrusted with the armband for the first game of Carlisle United’s new season.

Perhaps the actions will always speak louder where the 23-year-old is concerned. Against Crawley Town, it seemed as clear as ever how Feeney would lead, would perform.

It was just another day at Feeney’s particular office, where maximum commitment and defensive timing gets the job done.

After clean sheet number one, he spoke of his “pride” at being named captain but was more comfortable spreading the praise around, sharing the responsibility to take charge.

News and Star: Feeney, left, helped United keep a clean sheet in the opening-day winFeeney, left, helped United keep a clean sheet in the opening-day win

“I like to think I’m vocal," he said, "but we’ve got a few in the team who are really coming to the forefront as leaders, whether that’s leading by example in performances, or talking more just in the dressing room, pulling each other through it.

“I think it’s a really good dressing room at the minute. It’s about us getting each other through it, getting after each other, which we’re doing quite nicely.”

Feeney admitted that being appointed skipper for the new season was “the sort of thing you dream of as a kid”. While it is also to Callum Guy’s credit that the previous captain performed as well as he did having had the armband taken off him, there can be little doubt Paul Simpson has chosen well in Feeney.

“I just said, ‘Thanks very much’,” smiled Feeney, when asked how he had reacted to Simpson’s invitation. “The gaffer said that he’d like me to take it, but, again, when he spoke to me he said that he wants to see a group full of leaders.

“The gaffer has trusted me with the responsibility and I’m grateful for that, so I want to repay him.”

Job done in the first episode of the new 46-game series. While Carlisle’s energetic play and pressing caught the eye against Crawley, the less sparkling side of their game was no less important.

It was an early tick in the defensive box bearing in mind Dom Telford, Crawley’s major summer signing, only had the slightest glimpse of goal. Kevin Betsy’s other attackers were kept on a tight string.

News and Star: Ben Barclay plus fellow centre-halves Feeney and Mellish performed well against CrawleyBen Barclay plus fellow centre-halves Feeney and Mellish performed well against Crawley

Feeney, Jon Mellish and Ben Barclay were as solid and attentive as needed – and also kept their concentration in a game often spent in the opposition half.

“They are sometimes, as a defender, the games that can be banana skins, when you’re watching it for so long, on the periphery a little bit – and all of a sudden they break on you,” Feeney said.

“It’s important for us to stay even more focused, when it’s in front of us, to keep the back door shut, and not give them an easy way out, and really keep them in there when we lose the ball.

“When you’re watching for big chunks of the game it’s obvious a nice feeling – you know we’re doing something right – but you just stay focused, and we did that for large parts of the game.

“We needed to be locked on, because they [the likes of Telford] are good players and good players can punish you. Throughout the season we want to stay positive like that and on the front foot, keep teams out.”

United’s style of play against Crawley was no surprise to anyone who had watched their latter pre-season efforts. It was the product of Simpson’s design this summer and it put three early points on the table.

“It’s nice when you’ve worked hard over pre-season, and worked on things, and you can execute them in the first game,” Feeney said.

“We’ve worked on the shape a lot in pre-season and towards the end of last season, and it is about discipline. We got a bit sloppy at times but it’s not really about picking up the negatives. We won, we did some good things and it’s now about kicking on from here.

News and Star: Feeney was impressed with Fin Back's competitive debutFeeney was impressed with Fin Back's competitive debut

“First game, clean sheet and a win…we can’t ask for much more.”

Part of Simpson’s pre-season involved nurturing an understanding in the three-man central defensive line. Already Feeney, Barclay and Mellish appear on the same page.

“It’s a really competitive environment where everyone’s pushing for a place and you’ve got to perform,” said the former Everton and Sunderland man. “But we all get on really well as a team too.

“It’s handy when you’re on the pitch and get on with your mate next to you. We’re all pushing each other to do better and you’ve really got to earn the right to be in the team at the minute.

“It’s not just about the defensive unit and Tomas [Holy, United’s goalkeeper], it’s about what the team does. Everyone is buzzing about the clean sheet but if you do keep the back door closed it gives our forwards a chance to win the game for us.”

Feeney shares the views of his team-mates that Simpson’s pre-season was one of the toughest imaginable. Carlisle looked fit and primed against Crawley, and after taking an early lead through Kristian Dennis, seldom looked like squandering it, even though they couldn’t take more of their own chances.

“We felt solid as a back unit and in the shape we had as a team,” the captain said. “Obviously you’ve seen it before where they get a scruffy chance and all of a sudden they’ve equalised, but it didn’t feel like that was going to happen, and I think the other lads felt the same way.

“It actually felt like a matter of time before we got another, and it’s a shame that didn’t come. I think we limited them to a few half chances; I don’t think they had any real scares that they gave us.

“That’s more credit to us because we stopped them doing what they’re effective at and that’s probably why we felt comfortable.”

To the right of the back three, meanwhile, Fin Back was putting together a feisty man-of-the-match performance. Feeney has been impressed with the Nottingham Forest loanee, whose father is the England rugby union legend Neil Back.

“Fin’s been quality from the day he came in,” he said. “He doesn’t play like a teenager. This is his first loan but he doesn’t play like that – he plays with no fear, he’s on the front foot, takes the ball in tight areas, he’s a really exciting prospect.

News and Star: Paul Simpson applauds fans after the victoryPaul Simpson applauds fans after the victory

“There were a lot of man-of-the-matches out there, but Fin was excellent. He’s going to get many of them over the time he’s with us. He’s tough, he flies in and sometimes you pull a bit of a grimace, but he just seems to bounce up. I don’t know who he gets that off…”

United’s fans are plainly behind Simpson, and the faith spreads from the stands. “The crowd are right behind us from the first minute. We scored early and they erupted,” Feeney said. “They were so loud from there on in. It just drives you forward. When sometimes you need a goal, and you’re in two minds sometimes, it just drives you forward to go for the jugular.

“It’s important to perform for the home crowd, but when they get behind us it’s brilliant.”

Next United must perform for the fans who make the long trip to Colchester. They will travel in good early heart here in the fledgling days of 2022/23, led by Simpson – and Feeney.

“We’re just enjoying playing our football,” he added. “The gaffer allows us a bit of freedom to go and play.

“That’s all you can ask. You play football because you love the game and I think it’s showing how we’re playing with a smile on our face.

“It’s a great environment, everyone’s enjoying it and loving coming in.”