At View From the Ninian, as the decade draws to a close, we are looking back and you are our Player of the Decade. You are one of the few constants and have always given your all and you seem very driven and determined on the pitch, something as fans we appreciate. Do you think that’s a fair assessment and if so, have you always approached football in that way?
As a player, I think you change all the time. When you’re a little bit younger, you probably aren’t as aggressive. The way the league is, it means you need to play on the front foot and it’s something that managers have tried to add to my game. I like getting shots off and getting passes off to others too.
You set high standards in terms of work ethic and aggression. Do you expect or demand the same from those playing around you?
Energy is a big part of my game and being a midfielder, I naturally run and work more than other players might, like a centre half. Putting a shift in is a minimum requirement for us. On the training pitch, we just demand more of each other and we’ve had good managers over the years that have kept us on our toes.
It’s crazy to think that you’re comfortably the longest-serving Cardiff player now and you’ve only just turned 26. You’ll be due a testimonial soon! You’re not the captain, but does a certain level of responsibility come with being at the club for so long?
Yeah, it does. It’s natural that when new players come in and join the club, they look to me to see what’s required. I’ve played a lot of seasons at the club under a few different managers and know that if you put 100% in, the fans will appreciate it.
I enjoy being the person that people can speak to. One of the leaders in the dressing room. It’s pretty mad that it’s been 10 years! I came to the club in the youth team and had a brilliant time before being offered a scholarship. Since then, every season has been different and I’ve had something to prove. My main aim has just been trying to better myself and deal with new challenges. To have been here 10 years makes me proud.
You were signed as a 16-year-old and thrown straight in. What was your first impression of the club and professional football in general?
I came to the club on a scholarship and spent my first year in the youth team with Neil Ardley. I had a great bunch of team mates and just thought it was brilliant to be part of a football club the size of Cardiff. You do all the jobs you read about as a youth team player, like picking up players flip-flops and stuff like that after training and games. That first year, we had Craig Bellamy and Jay Bothroyd.
My first season involved with the first team, I played about 15 games and it was amazing becoming more of an established player. You train with the first-team regularly and start advancing as a player. When you’re 17, you’re not fully developed, so you are a boy training with men, but it was a great test. You’re training with good players who are trying to get promoted to the Premier League and the senior pro’s were great with me.
Is it daunting playing senior football at such a young age or do you back yourself and somehow take it in your stride?
You obviously want to be relaxed, but it’s hard. You get nervous because you’re training with the first-team players. The nerves are there just before you are going in to training or games, but once you’re involved, you become more relaxed. You are just trying to help the team as best you can.
I was really lucky with the senior pros who were around the club at the time. It’s hard to pick out individuals, but Mark Hudson was always great with me and Earnie had just come back to the club. Another one was Ben Turner. Me and Joe Mason were both in a similar position at the time and were both trying to make it as young players. We would both say that the lads were brilliant with us. They were a really good group who knew how to work hard and if you showed that willing, without having a chip on your shoulder, they appreciated it.
Your Cardiff career seemed to mirror that of Kadeem Harris, who joined at a similar time at a similar age and remained in and around the first-team without managing to break through. Was that frustrating and was it disappointing to spend the first Premier League campaign on loan at Yeovil?
No, I was happy to go on loan to Yeovil. The season before was the promotion year and I didn’t play as much as I would have liked, but I was still involved in the group. On a personal level, I just needed to play football and really test myself over a full season and that year at Yeovil was perfect to ground myself. It was tough at the bottom end of the Championship, but we had some good players and I was able to go and get loads of experience. It helped make me a more complete player and break in to the team.
Things started to come together when Russell Slade took charge in 2014. You broke in to the side and have pretty much remained there ever since. How did you find working with Russell and what changed?
All the boys speak so highly of Russell. He was a good manager and a really good person. For me personally, he gave me a lot of opportunities to make myself a regular in the first-team. There was a lot going on, dealing with what was happening at the club at the time. There were players coming and going all the time, but the core group was just great.
We were able to just get our heads down and focus on the football without worrying about anything else that was going on. Even with the comings and goings, we had good characters in the squad and he changed the club in that respect. He made it a good platform for the success that followed.
Neil Warnock transformed Cardiff’s fortunes when he arrived. What were your first impressions of working with him and what is a Warnock dressing room like?
Neil was brilliant at getting the lads together and having a strong, tight group. He brought a couple of big characters in and we felt like we had a really good squad in that first season. We all thought that with a few additions, we could do well and push on. Then in that promotion season, we had a great start and the momentum was building. That whole season was brilliant. Three good sides going for two promotion places.
Against Reading, we were a bit nervous. We did brilliantly at Hull to get a win off the back of the loss at Derby and going in to the Reading game, we knew we had to turn up and play the way we had played all season. Being on the pitch, you hear things so we knew that Birmingham were leading and that meant we could change our game. We didn’t have to chase and the main thing was getting the result and then the promotion. Then we could go and celebrate.
In the Premier League, Cardiff seemed a bit daunted initially by the culture shock and it felt like they took a while to find their feet. Do you agree and how did you find the step up from the Championship? As a midfielder, what are the main differences between the Premier League and the second tier?
Some games were really tough and we took a while as a team to get ourselves going. We had a few injury problems and didn’t have a settled squad in that opening game. When you look back, we could have picked up a few more points in those opening games.
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On a personal level, there were little things. It was a stop-start season that halted my momentum. Once I got a run in the team, I felt like we put in some good performances against some of the big sides, but ultimately, we can look back and there are things we could have done better. All the lads can learn from it and we could have given a better account of things.
Is it hard to get over relegation? Were you able to shake it off, or is there a bit of a hangover from that disappointment?
For me, it just felt like another chance to get back up. Once you get relegated, you have to prove yourselves once again. The opening 8-10 games weren’t great, but the good thing is now that we have settled down as a team, we will only get better as the season goes on.
Relatively speaking, Cardiff have struggled so far this season. Where do you think Cardiff have come up short and was it disappointing to see Warnock depart?
It was a bit of a shock, really. In the summer he’d said a few things about leaving at the end of the season, but it still came as a shock when he did leave. Obviously, he’s said what he said and he felt it was the right time to move on and as players, we respect that. As a group, we thanked him for what he did for the club. He was brilliant for the club and was great for us as players. It was important for him to leave on that note and with the respect he had built up.
What are your impressions of Neil Harris and what has changed since his arrival? What are you hopes and goals for the remainder of the season?
There’s not been a dramatic change, really, just small changes. He’s brought fresh enthusiasm in to the changing room and the boys are excited to be working under him. We’re just hopeful that we can give it a good go and we’ve just got to aim as high up the table as possible. The Championship is a tough league, but we’re confident in the squad that we’ve got. There’s a real chance of breaking into the top six and that should be the aim for a club like ours.
You scored your first hat-trick recently. That must have been a nice feeling. Are you keen to add more goals to your game?
As a midfielder, it’s not the be all or end all, but getting goals really helps and it’s great for your confidence. Getting that hat-trick was brilliant. We needed a response after losing in the derby and we got that reaction against Birmingham. It was great, but I also, somehow, got injured in the game, so that was disappointing. Everyone has to chip in goals so it’s just important for me to do what I can.
How do you find living in Cardiff and what do you do to relax?
I really enjoy living in Cardiff. When I first moved here, you’re in digs and living with other players. I’ve been here a long time now and recently moved in with my girlfriend. Cardiff is a great city and when the football is going well, everything else is going well. My girlfriend would probably say the same. I’m not the best person to be around after a loss, but I’m learning. You can’t let yourself get carried away with the highs and let the lows be too low. It’s about finding that balance. Losing isn’t a nice feeling and especially when you know you haven’t played well personally. I know if I’ve played well or not and it’s a good feeling when you’ve won a game.
You seem to be on social media far less than you used to be. How do you find being in the public eye and being a professional footballer on Twitter?
I’m not the most public of people on social media and things like that. It’s a great way to interact with fans and speak directly, but on the flip side, you don’t want to be seeing things like that all the time. It’s about finding the balance of being able to speak in public about things as well as being able to step away and concentrate on the football side of things.
I just want to concentrate on playing well and you want fans to see you putting your work in and doing it on the pitch for the shirt and the badge. I’m a big believer in showing my ability on the pitch before talking about it off the pitch and while social media has led to loads of messages over the years, I’d just prefer to just let my football do the talking.