When people talk about football being a series of highs, lows, joys and blows look no further than our very own Aaron Hayden for living proof.
Out of work and looking for a club last summer, he made his way up to Carlisle having received the invitation of a trial at the beginning of July, and that uncertain period was ended on a positive note when the start of his third week with the club brought the announcement that he’d been handed a one-year deal.
Smiles quickly turned to frustration as his appearances were limited to Carabao Cup and Leasing.com Trophy fixtures, but a quiet determination and a steely resolve eventually paid dividend when the arrival of new boss Chris Beech signalled a change of direction and a regular starting place for the tall and versatile centre back.
Speaking to him this week, he said: “The season has been a real journey so far. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster, to be honest.
“I obviously wasn’t in the team at the start of the season, but I always worked hard and tried to do everything I could to get in.
“I did my best in training, which is all you can do, and I kept believing in myself. I felt that if I kept doing things to the best of my ability that I would get my opportunity at some point.
“Obviously when Chris Beech came in he put the trust in me to give me my opportunity, which I was really grateful for.”
“It was a difficult period, but I obviously know that coming here was the right decision for me and my career now,” he added. “Even when I wasn’t playing I didn’t once doubt that I’d done the right thing.
“I knew it was a great opportunity for me and I was grateful to Steven Pressley for bringing me here and taking a chance on me. I look back on the start of the season as a real learning curve, because it’s made me tougher.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger is a saying I always like to live by. I haven’t got a bad word to say about Steven because I know it was never personal, it’s just the way it goes in football sometimes.
“He didn’t pick me, but I still had massive respect for him at all times. Chris has decided to pick me, but that doesn’t mean I can relax, or anything like that. I’ve had to work just as hard to keep my place in the team, because you have to be doing your bit or he’ll go with someone else.”
Watching from the sidelines is tough for any player, but he revealed that he’d drawn on past experiences to help him through as he kept his focus on being prepared mentally and physically should the situation change.
“I think it’s natural to get frustrated when you aren’t in the team, but I’ve been through it in the past and I feel like that prepared me for how it went earlier in this season,” he explained. “I kept the bigger picture in my mind, rather than focusing on the fact that I was being left out of squads.
“I always knew I was good enough, and that relaxed me and gave me a bit of comfort, because I knew I’d be able to show that when I got in the team. I wasn’t worried that I’d only had a few appearances because I was ready to grab my next chance with both hands when it came along.”
“When you aren’t playing it is tough mentally,” he admitted. “You train all week knowing you aren’t playing on a Saturday, and it does start to get to you. That’s when you have to keep believing and making sure that you don’t let it knock you off track.
“I’ve got my first baby on the way as well [due in May] so I had a lot to think about, but I like to pride myself on knowing that I can come out of tough situations.
“To be honest, when times are harder I kind of enjoy the challenge. Anyone can do well when things are going well, but when times are tough that’s when you really see what someone is about. I feel that the fans and everyone have seen this season that I’m able to come out of adversity.”
One of the first changes made by the new gaffer was to step the big defender up into a central defensive role, with Hayden appearing in the starting line up for his first game in charge at Forest Green in the second-round of the Emirates FA Cup.
“When the gaffer came in he threw me straight into the team and, if I’m honest, I wasn’t really expecting it,” he confirmed. “It was obviously what I wanted, but I didn’t really think he’d put someone who hadn’t played straight into the mix.
“I had a lot of respect straight away for that because it was a brave thing to do, really. It was a big risk for him to put someone in who hadn’t been playing but, like I said before, I’d done everything I could to make sure I was ready for whenever that opportunity came.
“When he told me he was starting me he pulled me to one side and told me to relax and enjoy it, because he was confident in what I could do. In the first 15 minutes of that game I was quite tense, but then I relaxed as it went on.
“I think in my first three or even five games I was still a little bit tense in my performances, even though I was still playing ok. After those first few games I really relaxed into it and settled down.
“Since I’ve been given my chance, I’ve just tried to pay the gaffer back and I haven’t really looked back. I’ve been trying to build my individual performances and to do what I need to do for the team, and hopefully that will continue so we can hopefully go on and do something much greater next year.
“I feel like the more I play the more my confidence will grow and the better I’m going to get. I’ll just make sure I keep myself fit and keep improving, and I’m sure the rest of the lads will be the same and we can hopefully make positive steps going forward.”
We’ll have more from Aaron Hayden on the official website later this week as he talks about the fans and the way they have welcomed his dad, his new deal and a string of performances which have caught the eye, and added goals to his ever-blossoming repertoire.