Nash can't believe his good fortune

GERARD Nash can't quite believe his good fortune.Which is really saying something, because it would probably be difficult to track down an unluckier footballer on this planet.

By Mel Henderson

GERARD Nash can't quite believe his good fortune.

Which is really saying something, because it would probably be difficult to track down an unluckier footballer on this planet.

His career cruelly ended at an age when some of his contemporaries are still contemplating the big breakthrough that will transform their lives, Gerard has long since come to terms with the reality of his own plight.

His injury problems started more than four years ago, before he joined Ipswich on a full-time basis, and even though the fact that his career was over only became public knowledge three months ago, he had known for more than a year that retirement was inevitable.

There were no complaints when then boss Joe Royle freed him at the end of last season, nor when Jim Magilton moved into the hot seat and decided on a stay of execution for the young Irishman.

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Handed a week-to-week contract, his slim hopes of making a comeback were well and truly dashed on the eve of the current campaign.

Gerard recalls: “I've no axe to grind with anyone at this club. Joe gave me my first team debut, for which I will always be grateful, and he never put any pressure on me when I was out injured.

“He was fantastic to me, always finding positive things to say to me. He gave me all the time in the world to see if I could prove myself. He encouraged me and it was clear that he always had my best interests at heart.

“Jim picked up where Joe left off and gave me another chance to see if I could get over the injury. When I had a chat with Jim he said he would love me to be a player for Ipswich.

“I did the pre-season stuff with the rest of the lads - well, I tried to. I couldn't do as much as them and I also needed a day off here and there.

“We all knew the crunch would come when I started playing games again. Would I still be the same or would the rest over the summer have helped me?

“I played three reserve games in about a week at the end of July and beginning of August. The first one was on a Wednesday and I got through it reasonably well.

“On the Saturday I managed to complete the game but I was really struggling. I went out and played again on the Tuesday and it soon became clear that I shouldn't have been out there.

“I got through to the final whistle but a lot of the time I was just going through the motions.

“That was it. I knew it was all over. No disrespect to the lads I was playing against, but if I couldn't do it at that level I knew it was hopeless.

“I came to Ipswich aiming to be the very best I could possibly be. I was in the reserve team at 16 and here I was at the same level four years later. I couldn't live up to my own standards so it was time to call it a day.”

Gerard battled in vain to overcome his problems and did not need anyone else to tell him that he was well short of the fitness level required to do battle in the Championship on a regular basis.

He adds: “The fact that I had feared the worst for so long didn't alter the disappointment I felt when the day of reckoning finally arrived.

“I had to be honest with myself and, of course, the gaffer. That was the very least I owed Jim and I wasn't going to string him or the club along.

“When I look back I guess I had known for a little over a year that it was pretty hopeless. I'd seen a specialist and he said I should have a serious think about my future. He made it clear that he didn't think football was something I would be able to do long-term.”

Gerard's one brief taste of first team action came in the 6-1 thrashing of injury and illness-hit Burnley at Portman Road in October 2003, when he replaced Georges Santos for the last 15 minutes.

That was a rare highlight for the lad raised in County Kildare, about 13 miles from Dublin, who had dreamt of soccer stardom from a very early age.

Premiership giants Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool were among the many clubs disappointed when Gerard decided to launch his career with Ipswich.

A United fan as a youngster, he went over to Old Trafford but still decided that the only other pro club he had chosen to have a look round represented his best option.

He had been visiting Town on a regular basis for almost three years, since scout Larry Fox spotted his potential when he was turning out for Dublin-based Belvedere Boys, before joining on a full-time basis in 2002.

Had it not been for the injuries, Gerard was tipped to follow in the footsteps of Mark Kennedy, now with Crystal Palace after spells with Millwall, Liverpool, Wimbledon, Manchester City and Wolves, and former Tottenham full-back Stephen Kelly, currently playing for Birmingham.

For the full Gerard Nash interview see tonight's Evening Star.

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