The close-season still finds Luke Joyce on a pitch - or, to be exact, to the side of one. "I'm taking my nephew to football," he says. "I don't get the chance during the season, on a Saturday, so it's nice."

The midfielder's thoughts are clearly never far from the game, and it has not been a quiet two weeks since the campaign ended, for Joyce has already sorted himself out with a new club: Port Vale, where he has agreed a two-year deal, ending a three-year stint at Carlisle.

Joyce joined an exodus from Brunton Park which also saw Clint Hill and Nicky Adams leave, with Mark Ellis having also since followed. All were players United wanted to keep but Joyce chose Burslem.

Joyce is one of the summer's early movers in the lower-leagues, a period when scores of out-of-contract pros face uncertainty. "Who knows, if you wait a bit you might get something that's a bit better, but for me it was about getting it done - and Port Vale were really keen," he says.

"They showed a real interest and willingness to get the deal done. For me that says a lot. You want to make sure that when you sign for a club they 100 per cent believe in you and want you.

"There were another couple of clubs I'd spoken to, but they weren't necessarily in a position to put an offer down on the table. At this time of the year a lot of people say a lot of things and they don't always carry through with it. So for me it was a case of getting it done with Port Vale."

As a mainstay of central midfield for United since 2015, when he rejoined the club after a long stint at Accrington, Joyce was also a big part of things here. Why, then, did he turn down the Blues' contract offer?

"It's not just one reason," he says. "After three years of the travelling, with the wife at home and two young children…it does take its toll a little bit. It can be hard.

"You factor that in with the uncertainty over the manager, which also plays a big part in your decision. It was only a 12 month contract [offer] too, so the security's not necessarily there. I didn’t want to sign 12 months and maybe be in the same position this time next year, a couple of months off 32 trying to find a new club.

"Also, financially, the contract wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, or as good as it has been. For whatever reason that is, in my position you need to make sure that everything within a contract's right.

"Playing football is a short career that’s not gonna see me through for the rest of my life. It's probably going to be half my working life. I need to make sure that I'm financially as well-off as I can be, and I need to do that for myself and my family.

"If I'd taken the offer from Carlisle a lot of things in my life would have had to change. We're really lucky my wife can be at home looking after my little boy [Ralph], who's not at school yet, and getting my little girl [Eva] off to school, things like that. It's a footballing decision as well as a family decision.

"Part of it is a new challenge too. It's getting out there to another club. Port Vale are a really good club who were recently in League One, I've enjoyed playing there in the past, and after speaking to the manager and the assistant manager, they've got real aspirations of doing a lot better than they did last season. I want to be part of that."

It is a detailed reply from a player who has a reputation as a diligent and honest pro. One senses, though, a certain disappointment that his time at Carlisle ended in such a way. Does Joyce feel the club could have done more to keep him?

"You always want a club to want you, to be desperate to secure your services," he says. "I think there's not just football reasons behind that for Carlisle. There's obviously things going on at the club and maybe they're not in as healthy a position [financially] as they have been over the last three years.

"Maybe me and one or two others leaving has helped them out in the long run, you don’t know. The club made me an offer that they felt I was worth. I value myself at more than that, and Port Vale were more in line with my thinking. That's how it went, really."

Joyce says he has received some kind messages from United fans - in contrast to some of the criticism Carlisle have been getting at a time when there have been more departures than arrivals. "You're always a bit wary, as to what people's reactions are going to be," he says. "But a lot of people have said really nice things. Sometimes you only find those things out when you come to leave.

"The club are getting a lot of stick," he adds. "To be honest, I don’t know what's going on, and I imagine a lot of fans don’t really know what's going on.

"I've had a couple of conversations with Nigel [Clibbens, chief executive]. I've always got on well with Nigel, and when I spoke to him and said I was leaving, I could sense a bit of sadness in his voice. He was a little bit down.

"I can imagine after so long, if people are constantly having a go at you, it can get on top of you. I just hope they get the right manager in and he has the tools at his disposal to get the players he wants. There's a good nucleus of players there, and as long as they add to that, I don’t see why they won't do well."

Joyce made 143 appearances in the last three seasons. Upon signing he said he was desperate to win promotion with Carlisle. Although that didn't happen, his time strengthened his bonds with the club he had previously represented at the start of his professional career from 2006-9.

"It's been brilliant, I've loved it," he says. "Not getting that promotion - which I think we should have had, with the calibre of players we had - will be one little regret. But there have been some great times too.

"The stand-out for everybody would be Liverpool at Anfield in the [League] Cup, and taking them to penalties. Going to Derby, going to QPR and beating them…lots of things I'll look back on and treasure for the rest of my life, and maybe even talk to little Ralphy about, when he grows up."

One assumes that rare Joyce strike against Crawley, that won him October 2016's League Two goal of the month, will also get a mention? Joyce laughs and agrees. "At that point," he adds, "we were thinking we were gonna go all the way. Then a few injuries, Charlie Wyke going, a loss of form throughout the wasn't meant to be.

"It was then heartbreaking to lose in the last minute of the playoffs. But that gives you motivation to go and do it again, and make sure you don’t lose out at that last hurdle."

He believes he can do this with Vale, under a manager (Neil Aspin) and assistant (Gary Brabin) he has not worked with before but describes as straight-talking and clear. "What's impressed me is they're trying to do their business early," he adds. "They're getting players in early doors. They're wanting to try and have the majority of their squad assembled by the time pre-season starts, and that's always a bonus for teams - it gives you real good preparation to start the season well."

Returning to Brunton Park in 2018/19 will clearly have extra meaning. "It will be the first fixture I look for," he says. "It will be a strange feeling, as it was last time when I came with Accrington, but it will be another game, and about getting another three points, as boring as it sounds."

Joyce will, like others who have left, be a curious observer of what is going to unfold at Carlisle this week and over the summer - while also ensuring he is in the best condition for his fresh start.

"I've had two weeks off, not done anything, not been to the gym or done any kind of running, and I'm getting itchy feet already," he says. "I've been indulging a bit with the food, you have a few alcoholic refreshments, then you start feeling that you want to go out for a run. So I'll probably start a bit of training this week, nothing too intense, just get the body moving again.

"I take pride in my fitness levels, and my ability to play a lot of games consistently - even when I've been at Carlisle, and the manager's brought in players to possibly take my place or give real competition. What I'm proud of is I've played more games than any midfielder at Carlisle in the last three years.

"Going to a new club, I want to do the same - be as fit as I can be, impress in pre-season, make sure I'm in that team, and stamp my authority on it."