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Footballers' Lives with Josh Carson: Injury hell left me in tears but I want to win everything in the Irish League now

Bannsiders ace Josh Carson on suffering cruciate woe while in England, representing NI with his heroes, and family support

By Graham Luney

The latest of our popular series, Coleraine ace Josh Carson discusses suffering cruciate woe while in England, representing Northern Ireland with his heroes and family support

Q. How did your career start?

A. I played for Antrim Rovers and was at Carniny Youth for a while, winning trophies everywhere! Then I went to St Andrews where my uncle Keith Smith was in charge of the team.

He helped my game develop and that advice helped me become the player I am today. I went to Greenisland Boys and loved my time there. I learned a lot as a kid from playing in different leagues.

Crusaders midfielder Matthew Snoddy was in our team as well as Ballymena United goalkeeper Ross Glendinning.

Q. How did the move to Ipswich Town happen?

A. I was going back and forward during my time at St Andrews. I played in the Milk Cup and Foyle Cup, then every other week I was going on trials.

I was at Newcastle, Fulham, Leicester City and Rangers. Ipswich always stood out as it was a family-orientated club who looked after players.

Cormac Burke and Rory McKeown from Northern Ireland were also offered deals. I was 16 and too young to predict the future but I did well.

Q. And did you enjoy Ipswich?

A. I loved it. I was there for nearly five years. I know boys can find it hard as they are far from home but we looked after each other. It's a huge learning curve and I grew up quickly. I was nervous and scared but as my parents said, it was what I wanted to do and I had to grasp the opportunity.

I broke into the first team when I was 17 and scored a few goals. Paul Jewell was the manager and he was brilliant with me. One time my agent at the time got me these orange Adidas boots and Paul told me to take them off or I wouldn't be playing on the Saturday.

Paul was always on my case but that was only because he rated me and he treated me like his son. I played the last 10 games of that season and scored four goals.

I was normally a central midfielder but was pushed wide because we had players like Jimmy Bullard and Grant Leadbitter. Unfortunately, Paul eventually got sacked and everything changed for me.

Mick McCarthy arrived and brought new players in. I turned into the dreaded 19th man, sitting in the stand for 90 minutes. I wanted to go on loan and he agreed, opening the door to a move to York City.

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Josh Carson in action for Ipswich Town in the Championship on November 5, 2011.

Q. And how was your time at York City?

A. Nigel Worthington was the manager then and I loved working with him too. He was Northern Ireland boss when I got my first call-up for the Carling Nations Cup games.

York managed to stay in League Two and nearly got promotion, losing in the play-offs. I suffered a cruciate injury and was out for nine months. That was hard to take. It was soul-destroying.

Mentally, that was the toughest time for me but I had good people around me and a manager who respected me. Nigel was like a father figure to me and he took a gamble with me by bringing me into the squad before he brought me to York City.

Nigel lost his job and when Jackie McNamara came to the club he never took to me and we didn't get on. I was frustrated and spent most of my time on the bench as we got relegated to the Conference.

I had the option of trials in England but I wanted to come home. Hibernian wanted to offer me a deal but it wasn't a move that made financial sense to me.

Northampton and Morecambe were other options but Ross Oliver checked on my situation and he invited me to train with Linfield. David Healy knew me from Northern Ireland and signed me after a few friendlies.

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Josh Carson played for York City in League Two.

Q. Was it difficult to adapt to the Irish League?

A. It wasn't what I wanted to do but the constant travelling was a nightmare. I signed a one-year deal at Linfield thinking I could do well and bounce back.

We have seen Irish League players like Paul Smyth, Gavin Whyte, Bobby Burns and Brad Lyons get across the water and it's a good way to progress. You get knocks in your career but if the opportunity to go across the water was to arise again I'd grab it.

You grow up as a player in the Irish League and I missed that men's football as a teenager. Linfield went on to have a great season but I broke my toe early on and didn't contribute as much as I would have liked. I was coming off the bench and trying too hard.

I was offered a two-year deal but I thought it would be better to speak to other clubs and after talking to Oran Kearney and William Murphy, I decided to move to Coleraine. It was another incredible season with Irish Cup success. We could have won the league but dropped silly points. It was a hard lesson for us.

Q. How unfortunate have you been with Irish Cup finals?

A. I was suspended for last season's final after getting sent off against Ballymena United. It's hard to take as you are never guaranteed another final. All I could do was galvanise the players and I think losing the league the week before helped us because Oran said we had to leave everything on the pitch because we never wanted to feel that way again.

The previous season I didn't make the Linfield squad. That was a nightmare because you are standing on the halfway line unable to contribute.

Q. How do you reflect on your time with Northern Ireland?

A. I was a bag of nerves to begin with because you aspire to be a player like David Healy. Paddy McCourt was in the squad and he was unbelievable. He's one of the best players I have seen, scary with the ball at his feet.

I had the joy of playing with Gareth McAuley at Ipswich too and he was brilliant with me. He looked after me and gave me a kick up the backside when I needed it.

When I was called into the squad it was difficult to come out of my shell. I was 17 and didn't have the experience. You are running around like a headless chicken chasing Steven Davis. I loved being in the squad, it was a real learning curve.

Steven had a great awareness of space and he can do everything on a pitch. Jonny Evans, as a centre-half, would run rings around you and I always looked up to Roy Carroll as I am a Manchester United fan.

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Josh Carson in action for Northern Ireland against the Republic during the Carling Nations Cup in May 2011.

Q. Your debut against the Republic of Ireland ended in a 5-0 defeat, so it must have led to mixed emotions.

A. It was a strange one as Northern Ireland supporters boycotted the game. We got hammered but the game was laidback and laboured. I was only 17 and still loved playing in the game.

The Republic seemed to be stronger for years but now I think the shoe is on the other foot and Northern Ireland are better. It will be interesting to see how the friendly game goes next month.

Q. How supportive has your family been in your career?

A. My mum and dad, Elaine and Glyn, have been fantastic, always there for me. My mum doesn't miss a game and loves the football. I played every day as a kid and they were taking me everywhere.

As you grow older you appreciate more what your parents do for you and how they push you forward. My dad was hard on me when he needed to be.

I can remember scoring three goals for St Andrews against Glentoran and was happy but when I got into the car my dad had a face like thunder. He said, 'What about the one you missed in the first half, an open net and you missed it!'

We practiced in the back garden and he always encouraged me to use both feet. My uncle Keith showed me a few tricks.

When I came home it was hard for my family but they would travel the earth for me. I try and give as much as I can to make them happy. I've a younger sister Danielle who makes the games when she can and seems to enjoy having a shout at me!

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Josh Carson alongside his parents and sister Danielle

Q. What has been the worst day of your life?

A. I'd say suffering my cruciate injury at York. The pain was bad for 15 seconds but after that I thought it might now be serious. A stretcher was called and four weeks later I was told it was a cruciate injury.

I cried my eyes out for hours, I couldn't believe it. I knew it would be nine months minimum to return. If this injury doesn't heal properly, I could be finished.

It was mentally tough but the operation was a success. My first game back was away to Carlisle and I came off the bench at half-time and scored.

Q. What do you still want to achieve?

A. I want to win everything in the Irish League. Longer term, I would like to do some coaching. Hopefully I'll play on until my late 30s.
 I love playing for Coleraine and we are doing something right if we're attracting players like Stephen Lowry and Aaron Burns.

A knee injury has held me back this season but hopefully I'll be fit and helping out soon.

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Josh Carson.

Snapshot

Date of birth: June 3, 1993

Place of birth: Ballymena

Previous clubs: Ipswich Town, York City, Linfield

Coleraine record: 13 goals in 46 appearances

International record: Four senior Northern Ireland appearances

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