AS Andy Williams' song goes, Christmas really is 'the most wonderful time of the year'.
Unless you are an out of contract League of Ireland player searching for your next club. Christmas is meant to be a time that people can unwind and relax. Not for a player who doesn’t know if they have a future in football.
It’s not easy being a footballer in the league this time of year. Not many clubs are giving 52-weeks contracts, so players find themselves surviving off social welfare. Yes, players can work but it’s difficult enough finding any sort of job, never mind a job that will hire you for a month before you return to training.
Up until recently, I found myself in that situation. The off-season is meant to be a time when a player allows their body to recover from a long hard season.
Players go on holidays and deservedly enjoy themselves. If you’re a player with no club, you can’t afford to take that luxury. You can’t go drinking and eating what you want in case you've to meet a manager. Physical condition could be a deal-breaker.
More than likely that the later a player signs, the worse his contract is going to be.
Ideally players want to go into meetings with clubs, knowing that there are several clubs interested, that the club need to impress them and not the other way around. Players want to feel wanted, not like the club are only signing them to make up the numbers.
Living in the wrong part of the country can be a player’s downfall. Clubs know that they are going to have to pay a player more money if the player has to move or travel up and down the country rather than a player who lives locally. With so many clubs around Dublin, players living in the region have a much better chance of getting a club.
The PFAI do host training camps and arrange matches for out of contract players but players are always running the risk of getting injured. Sean Boyd ruptured his cruciate against Rochdale earlier this month. He will be lucky to play again this season. I know Sean and feel very sorry for him and I just hope that he is getting support from the PFAI to help him true this difficult period.
I was delighted to get my future sorted last week after signing for Waterford. I can relax now but for weeks I was questioning if I had a future in the game. I must admit, I’d fallen out of love with the game.
I’ve never enjoyed training much but I always loved matches. I lost that buzz. I did contemplate retiring. I didn’t want to carry on playing if I felt I would be just going through the motions.
I had offers from other clubs before Waterford contacted me but I turned them down because I knew I would be just signing for them to collect a wage and not because I actually wanted to go and play football there. It was important for me that I signed for a club where I felt I was going to enjoy it.
I’ve had to face the harsh reality that soon enough my career will end. League of Ireland players can’t afford to take time off and decide what their next career move is. They need to find a job as they wouldn’t have earned enough throughout their career to figure out what they want they want to do.
I’ve always tried to prepare for life after. Not enough players are doing that. I’ve continually tried to educate myself but companies are more interested in experience.
I’ll be 32 when the season begins and know that I don’t have long left. I did question whether it would be better for me to finish up and change industry.
I had secured a job with McCarthy Insurance Group (MIG) to begin work in January before signing for Waterford. It was important I could carry on working for MIG in some capacity along with playing. I didn’t want to find myself in the same situation next year. Thankfully, MIG have been flexible and I will continue working for the company.
I’ve always worried about what I will do when the day comes and I do have to hang up my boots and I feel that now with MIG I have a career path. It will help me enjoy football again and not having to worry about the future.
After the release of the fixtures, I got that excitement about football back that I didn't have for some time. I can’t wait to get back training, meet my new teammates and get to work with Alan Reynolds.
Working with him was my main reason for joining the club. My wife might not be happy but I can’t wait to be walking out onto Richmond Park against St Patrick’s Athletic on Valentine’s night!