“I was lost, really,” says Jamie Devitt in an interview of unvarnished honesty. The former Carlisle United midfielder, who recently signed for Workington Reds, is not interested in shielding himself, or anyone else, from the reality of how he suffered after injury ended his Blues career.

It was the first time that Devitt had experienced a summer of silence. Unattached, unemployed and, at 33, wondering if he had reached the end.

“Everyone tells you different things about when you’re coming out of football. But it’s really, really tough,” he says. “You just expect the phone to ring. And you’re checking your phone every day thinking, ‘Has it stopped working…?’

“It’s a lonely time. You’ve gone from being wanted a lot to literally not being wanted.”

Devitt says he had not anticipated how much he would struggle with this. Through the support of his family, regular meetings with a psychologist, and good friends, he has plotted an uncertain way through a testing period.

It has been a road of many steps, with lots more to be taken. “I still don’t think I’ve properly, fully, come around to it,” he says. “It got to the point where I rang the PFA [Professional Footballers' Association] up and said I needed a little bit of help – I didn’t know where I was going or what I was doing.

“They put me in touch with somebody. So I go and speak to someone once a week, just to see how I’m feeling. They’ve been brilliant in helping that way.

“It’s something I didn’t know anything about until I spoke to them. They come in and have meetings at your clubs every year but I never thought it was something I wanted or needed. But I have found it’s helped.”

Talking has given Devitt an outlet that he realises he needed. “Only when speaking about it did I full realise that, since I was 15, when I moved over to England [from Ireland], I’ve been in a team. That’s been 18 years now.

News and Star: Injuries hindered Devitt's last season with CarlisleInjuries hindered Devitt's last season with Carlisle (Image: Ben Holmes)

“All of a sudden this year, it was, ‘Right, you’re done now’. The process was really tough. It still is tough. But I’ve got good people around me, good friends, and my family is brilliant – the missus and kids kept me going. It’s all you need to think about when you’re feeling down, or rubbish or anything.

“That’s my prime focus – making sure I’m doing something that can make them proud. At the minute I don’t know what I’m doing, really. I’m loving what I’m doing with Danny [Grainger, the Workington manager], but it’s part-time at the end of the day. There is other stuff I’m trying to do but I’m in limbo at the minute.”

Devitt’s full-time career in England included two spells with Carlisle. The first was an increasingly dynamic one from 2016 to 2019, the next a year-and-a-half under Paul Simpson as the Blues went from a struggling side to a promoted one.

The midfielder, who rejoined United from Barrow in January 2022, played an initially important role in the turnaround but injury ended his 2021/22 season early, while further injuries impacted his 2022/23 campaign – including, cruelly, the run-in to the play-offs, as a bad hamstring tear against Salford City in April left him distraught.

Devitt, throughout, remained a valued, popular and trusted figure in the dressing room, someone whose input was often praised by Simpson. This helped put some light on the kind of future he could have in the game. Yet it was also bittersweet.

“After the Salford game I sat and said, ‘That’s it’. It was the end of everything I sort of knew," he says. "I sat on the bed and for the week after, I locked myself in the physio room in Carlisle for a few hours and didn’t want to see everyone.

“After that, I didn’t really want to come back, because of the way I was feeling. I didn’t want my presence to be a negative one. But I had a few phonecalls off some of the younger lads like Mox [Owen Moxon], asking for advice, saying they needed me around the place, just for some help, basically.

“So I came back up for the Bradford home game in the play-offs, when I was on my crutches, and the feeling I had was so good, with the lads saying how good it was to see me back.

News and Star: Devitt says the opportunity to help Carlisle team-mates like Owen Moxon kept him going after injury - but says promotion at Wembley was a bittersweet experienceDevitt says the opportunity to help Carlisle team-mates like Owen Moxon kept him going after injury - but says promotion at Wembley was a bittersweet experience (Image: Richard Parkes)

“Then, at the final [at Wembley against Stockport County], I remember at half-time the game was in the balance [United were 1-0 down] and Geoff Haugh [the rehab coach] said, ‘You need to go in the dressing room and speak to the lads, because they listen to you’.

“That sense of being needed felt unbelievable. I just felt like I’d contributed, even if it was a tiny little bit. It was all a bit bittersweet because the emotion that day was one of the best days I’ve ever had in football, but I couldn’t be involved...

"It’s hard to explain. Just the process of trying to explain is tough. I still can’t really speak about the injury itself and what happened – it messes with me a little bit. But I’m learning to speak about it in a better way. It’s just about trying to deal with that and help my mind.”

Devitt was released after United were promoted, and time slowed as he underwent months of rehabilitation, and heard the silence. “As the phone wasn’t ringing it was a case of, ‘Well, I’ve been unemployed now for a number of weeks,’ then a number more go past…'I need to provide for my family. I need to get doing something'. I wasn’t fully fit either, so it wasn’t like I could go and do a lot of things. It was just about hoping something would come up.”

His low feelings were doubly difficult because, Devitt says, “you don’t want to burden your family with it either. As much as they’ve been there the whole way, and been amazing, sometimes you don’t want to get upset in front of them.

“You almost want it to be a completely random person [who you talk to]. Because they’re random it feels they won’t judge, they don’t know you. You can sort of say what you want. Doing that [through the PFA] has helped.”

United, despite releasing him, did not abandon Devitt. He was allowed to work on his fitness at the club and was then engaged in a scouting capacity. “That’s probably what’s kept me going,” he says. “When I was in doing my rehab Greg [Abbott, head of recruitment] asked if I’d like to do it.

“I literally had nothing on, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was lost, really. He asked me and I loved it. I loved having the responsibility and reporting back to the manager. Sometimes it could be about a player, sometimes a team, sometimes who they’re playing next week. I loved being able to try and help in that way.”

News and Star: Danny Grainger and Jamie Devitt, United team-mates from 2016-19, are now reunited at WorkingtonDanny Grainger and Jamie Devitt, United team-mates from 2016-19, are now reunited at Workington (Image: Stuart Walker)

Grainger, his close friend and former United team-mate, spoke to him early in the summer about the idea of playing for Workington. “We sort of agreed I would come in if I didn’t get a league club. But I wanted to make sure I was right for Danny, and not just think, ‘Oh, I need to earn some money’, and sign but not be able to play for another month.”

Eventually Devitt joined Reds for training and then signed until the end of the season in a player-coach capacity. The midfielder suddenly beams as he describes how much he’s enjoying being back involved.

“Me and Danny are close, our families are close, we’ve always stayed best friends and he’s been brilliant,” says Devitt. “I’m really loving it. It’s a bit of a different role – giving opinions on the coaching side of it as well. I never really thought of that until the end of last year, when some of the [Carlisle] lads were asking for advice. I quite enjoyed the responsibility of them asking me – they obviously think I can help them in some way.”

A Workington debut, as a substitute in the FA Trophy against Hyde United, also meant a great deal. It was something he doubted he would experience again.

“It was a big thing. The missus and the kids have seen how low I was, over that period of time, so it was probably more a relief for them to see me out on the pitch, doing what I love doing,” he says. “It was good just to see their reaction, the smiles on their faces.

“Over the summer, my drive came back. After the joys of the play-off final, I thought, ‘I don’t want my body to tell me I’m done, I want to be the one that makes that decision. Not a hamstring injury, that’s already hampered everything'. The relief to go back out onto the pitch was good, and all the messages I got were really good to see. It felt good.”

News and Star: Jamie Devitt in action for Workington against Hyde - a debut that meant a lot to the midfielderJamie Devitt in action for Workington against Hyde - a debut that meant a lot to the midfielder (Image: Gary McKeating)

The Northern Premier League Premier Division is a few steps lower than Devitt is accustomed to, but he does not underestimate the level. Some of his peers, including old Carlisle team-mates, are at other clubs in the division. “I speak with Joycey [Luke Joyce] every week, we always have a good catch-up. I speak to Nicky [Adams] every now and again too [both Joyce and Adams are at Radcliffe].

“I spoke to them a little bit before I signed and they were like, ‘You’ll be surprised at the level’. Don’t get me wrong, there are players not at a great level but also players who should be playing a lot higher.

“Sometimes it’s not worth these players playing full-time football because they’ve got such good jobs, and they want it as a hobby. I have been pleasantly surprised at the standard of it. I’m just looking forward to getting more and more into it.”

Has this new start helped Devitt push some of his darker feelings behind him? “Definitely. You just want to help and try and do something, try and make the negative into a positive and try and help this team now. And who knows what we can do at Workington?

“I’m sure Danny’s going to have a really, really good managerial career, because of the detail he goes into and the dedication he has towards it. I’m learning off him, even though he is young.

“I know the lads have respect for him. As a young manager, he’s earned that respect. I’m just learning off Danny, like I have with the gaffer [Simpson] last year…and probably about 28 managers I’ve had over my career! Every single one of them is different and you take a little bit out of each of them and try and put it in yourself.”

It is not, though, the case that Devitt is totally settled with life already. The future is still unknown. “Through the PFA, I’ve done some scouting courses because of the stuff I’m doing with Carlisle. I’m going to be doing the coaching course, I’m booked in for that. I’m looking at maybe going down the agency side of it as well.

“At the minute, I’m trying to juggle a few things because I don’t really know [what I’ll do]. Since I moved over at 15, all I’ve known is being in a football team. Everything now is new and I’m not liking it.

“I’ve been told since I was 15 what to do. I’ve been told by a manager what my day to day routine is, my week, everything. Now you’re not being told anything, basically. You’re having to think, and there’s the real world.

“It’s my own fault for not having things in place before. You think you’re going to be a footballer for life. Looking back now, I should have planned better than I have."

The time to reflect on the best days of his career is somewhere in the future, but Devitt’s warmth for Carlisle needs no long contemplation. “I can’t say it’s the worst decision leaving Carlisle when I did [he left for Blackpool in 2019] – I had to do it for family reasons, but the best decision was coming back [from Barrow in 2022]," he says.

“It’s a weird one…as a player you don’t really try and push for it…but, pretty much, I did try and push for it in this case. I was the one who rang a lot of other people about it.

“It’s the best thing I ever did. At that stage of my career, it wasn’t about money. I took a massive [financial drop] to come back to Carlisle, because it was where I wanted to finish.

“To a degree, I have done that, in full-time football. I don’t want to say I’ve closed that door because I’ve not come to terms with closing it just yet, but I feel like I can look back on it and think Carlisle was the best place I’ve been, what I enjoyed the most, and the best was the promotion at the end.”

There is lasting affection for Devitt from United’s supporters too and this is not something he treats lightly. “The first team I look out for is Carlisle. My little girl goes around singing Carlisle songs. That’s all she’s known. Because of Covid, she’s not been anywhere else, and then when I came back here it was the first place she came to. Mason [my son] is Carlisle now.

News and Star: Devitt says his young family has been his focus during tough timesDevitt says his young family has been his focus during tough times (Image: Barbara Abbott)

“It’s hard to explain sometimes, but I think this club’s just a bit special. You look at past players that still have a really good relationship with the club…it’s that thing with fans and players, sometimes they just connect. It happens at loads of clubs, and I’m glad it’s happened for me at this club.”

Devitt totted up 13 different professional clubs but knows where he felt most at home. It is nice to hear him speak like this after laying out so many harsher emotions.

“I’ve done a lot of the scouting and been back to a lot of the clubs I’ve previously been to,” he says, “and it’s nice to see certain people, but some of the clubs I go back to I think, ‘I didn’t enjoy it here’, or ‘I don’t want to be here’.

“At those places I’m trying to not let people see me. But it’s the opposite at Carlisle. The truth is I’m just learning, really. I’m in the learning stage now, seeing what’s next.”