Footballers' Lives with Chris Casement: Sports psychologists have helped revive my career after last year's Linfield disappointments
In the latest edition of our popular series, Linfield ace Chris Casement discusses seeking assistance during tough times, his spell with Ipswich and plans to coach in the future
Q. How did your career start?
A. I played in the playground at Belvoir Park Primary School and the caretaker ran a team called Boyland in east Belfast. I ended up playing for them as a striker for two seasons and scored plenty of goals before going to St Andrews on the Shankill.
We had Trevor Carson in goals, Craig Cathcart at centre-half, Robert Garrett in midfield and Johnny Black at left-back as well as Michael Carvill up front.
Q. Did the move to Ipswich Town come when you were young?
A. Yes, I was 15 and playing in the Milk Cup for County Down. I had been on trial at Rangers with the St Andrews connection, then several other teams. Ipswich scout Jim O'Hea, who has sadly passed away, was key in getting me over.
He was a lovely man and things progressed from there. I think the experience of going over to Rangers at the age of 10 helped me. I had four years of experience of going on trials but of course it was nerve-wracking as you are going into a more intense training environment.
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It's hard when you don't know anyone but Ipswich was always a welcoming, family club with excellent coaches and an unbelievable academy for bringing young players through.
Q. How do you reflect on your time there?
A. I loved it. Everything I know in football was learned at Ipswich. The staff were brilliant and had an unbelievable way of coaching their players on and off the pitch. They taught me the importance of hard work.
Younger players now don't have to do the changing room jobs like cleaning boots and emptying water bottles.
I really enjoyed that because you looked up to first-team players like Jim Magilton and felt it was an important part of staying grounded at a young age.
I sometimes think young players today take things for granted. You always have to work hard.
Q. Was Jim a big help to you?
A. Yes, he was harsh but fair and honest. If he felt there was more in me he would try and get it out of me. I'd rather someone look you in the eye and be honest.
Looking back I could see he was trying to improve my game and was brilliant with me. As club captain he was great at looking after the young lads.
Q. You had a few loan spells at Millwall, Hamilton and Wycombe before joining Dundee. Do you have any regrets?
A. Sometimes experiences didn't work out but I've learned from them. The difficult moments teach you the biggest lessons and make you better equipped to deal with the tougher times in your career.
Moving away from Ipswich was hard because I was used to the great facilities. You've just got to keep learning and become mentally stronger.
Q. Irish League players have moved to England or Scotland after playing men's football here. Is there a right or wrong way to pursue a professional career?
A. You should just try and play as much senior football as you can, whatever the standard is. A player like Paul Smyth played real, meaningful football at Linfield and knew the importance of winning and losing when people's livelihoods depended on it.
That gives you great experience in both the physical and mental side of the game.
Sometimes in academy football the performance can matter more but in men's football it's all about winning.
But players can still go across at the age of 15 or 16 and develop technically, it's hard to turn down that opportunity.
Q. When you did come home and joined Linfield, was it hard to adapt?
A. Not really. I thought it would have taken me longer to adjust. The big difference was not being full-time and there's a lifestyle change with training at nights and finding a job.
Q. Who have been the biggest positive influences on your career?
A. Outside of football it has always been my family, who have encouraged me from a young age in the good and bad times.
My dad John and grandas played a bit and we have always been football mad. My dad liked to see me do well and I still know by his reaction how well I've played.
He is honest and I found it hard to accept when I was younger but I can understand it now.
It's never personal and he's always been supportive as has my mum Alison. Within football, Bryan Klug, who went on to Tottenham, and the academy staff at Ipswich including Steven Greaves and Richard Hall were first class since the day I arrived.
They taught me how football should be played and were brilliant coaches. They had a great way of communicating and I learned a lot that year we won the FA Youth Cup.
Q. Was that 2005 FA Youth Cup win with Ipswich the best moment of your career?
A. One of a few highlights for me. The league win at Solitude was special, the Northern Ireland appearance against Italy in Pisa was a proud moment too as well as this season's League Cup win.
It's hard to pick one highlight. When you're still playing football you don't really sit down and appreciate what you're achieving. Maybe in retirement I can look back at the medals and cherish the memories.
Q. How have you dealt with low moments?
A. I think you learn through experience. My mental strength has got much better over the years. When I was younger I took things personally and to heart but you realise that decisions have to be made in football and you need to react in the right way.
Setbacks can make you stronger.
Every player will admit their career hasn't been all rosy whether it's injuries or fallouts with managers or being released. Being released by Ipswich was hard to take and last season with Linfield it was individually and collectively a difficult time.
We learned a great deal from that experience. Tough times can make you stronger and we are delighted to be top of the table.
The League Cup win was a special experience and it was important to win a trophy again because we knew last season wasn't good enough.
We had to come back hungry. Football is a ruthless business and if you're not performing of course you are going to be worried about your future. That applies to everyone.
The expectation at Linfield is winning trophies and you have to deliver. I think you've always got to believe in yourself and work hard.
Q. Do you need that added mental strength as a Linfield player?
A. It's important to have that and I really did realise that last season. You need to have faith in your own ability, even if someone else doesn't. I was working with sports psychologists in the summer and that has helped me in times when things haven't been going my way.
This game is all about how you react to a bad pass or a bad performance. Last season was one of my toughest times.
I was out of the team for a while and you do fear for your future but it's always important to stay professional and keep working hard.
You can huff and not be professional but that won't get you far. The difficult times won't last forever.
I've no regrets. Football tests your mental resolve and the bad moments can give you extra motivation.
This game is about ups and downs and you have to embrace all of it. Decisions aren't personal in football, they are all taken for the good of the team.
Q. Tell us about your family life.
A. I've a wife Cathy and daughter Rose (3). She keeps me busy. Cathy isn't really into the football but has always been supportive. Rose walked out with me in the League Cup final and that was a very proud moment for both of us.
You play football to be involved in these big games and it's nice to share success with your family and friends.
Q. How surprised were you by Ballymena United's form under David Jeffrey?
A. Not at all. I played under David and Bryan (McLoughlin) for three years and they've done a wonderful job.
I knew they would give us a tough game in the Cup final. I've been blessed to play under different managers who have helped me greatly.
Q. Who has been the best player you have played with and toughest opponent?
A. Jamie Mulgrew, you don't play nearly 550 games for Linfield unless you are an unbelievable player. Roy Carroll brought a lot of experience and quality to our defence as well. Opponent would be Paul Heatley or Joe Gormley, two players you can't switch off against.
Q. Have you suffered hard times in your family life?
A. I lost a cousin, Adam, who died suddenly just over three years ago when he was only 13. That was a tough one to take.
It's hard to get your head around a young life taken like that. The whole family circle was affected by it. He had all his life to live and we are a close family.
Q. Would you like to go into coaching?
A. Yes, I've a big passion for it. I've been helping out with the Burns Soccer School and I've done my B Licence.
I believe football should be played in a certain way and I've got ideas for when I develop as a coach.
I'm still learning as a player and enjoying my football.
Date of birth: January 12, 1988
Place of birth: Belfast
Previous clubs: Ipswich Town, Millwall (loan), Hamilton (loan), Wycombe (loan), Dundee, Portadown
Linfield record: 166 appearances, six goals