Preston forward Ethan Walker came into the building to start his second loan spell with the Cumbrians on Saturday morning with a huge smile on his face as he continued the process of putting a recent shoulder injury, and subsequent operation, behind him.
Having made five appearances for the club at the start of the season it felt like he’d never been away as he slotted straight back into the group, and he confirmed when we grabbed him for the obligatory welcome back interview that it was just good to be with us once again.
“It feels great to be here,” he said. “I’ve gone through all of my rehab at Preston and I’ve been looking forward to coming back to play. Obviously I had to wait for the all-clear to get going again, so managing to get back here is just a massive bonus for me.
“I’ve seen the reaction from the fans on social media and that’s fantastic. I remember how great the Carlisle fans were when I was recalled by Preston. There were so many positive comments from them, so knowing what they’d said about me meant it was a no-brainer to come back here.
“On top of that the gaffer and the players made me feel so welcome the first time I was here, so that made it even easier. I was told about other interest but once it was decided that I could go out on loan again there was only one place I wanted to be.”
And the raft of positive comments he received were down to the fact that he’d just started to show what he was about when the injury struck.
“I think that Sunderland game was the game where it clicked for me,” he agreed. “Unfortunately that was when I did my shoulder. That was frustrating for me because I could feel that I was getting into my rhythm.
“My first game back after lockdown was the Cambridge game, when the gaffer sent me on, so initially it was all about getting used to it and to how the team play.
“That was then, and I’ve been on a six-week fitness programme now and I feel the fittest I’ve been for a long time. I’m definitely ready to go.”
Manager Chris Beech revealed at this Thursday press conference that he’d reminded the young forward that he owed the club some goals as he headed back up north to rejoin the Blues.
“I know I owe Carlisle one for the chance at Scunthorpe, which I should have scored, but I think this time it’ll be a very different Ethan Walker that you see,” he insisted. “The gaffer told me that I can’t let him down after all this and I just want to make an impact for the team now.
“I want the Carlisle fans to see that I can excite them and make a difference.”
Taking him back to that horrible day at the Stadium of Light, he said: “I knew as soon as I hit the floor that it had happened.
“It was actually when I stood up again that I could feel it was still out of its socket. That’s when I had to try to push it back in a little bit and I heard a squelch and stuff, and that was the point when I knew it was over for me.
“It then needed to be looked at and I actually got the opportunity to stay at Carlisle and play the rest of the season, without having the operation, but that was obviously going to be after it had settled down again.
“The op would then come at the end of the season, but there was always a risk. We couldn’t see the point of that and I knew I was young enough to just get it sorted and get it over with.
“This injury has happened to me before but it’s something I can now move on from. The good thing is that it won’t be in the back of my mind any more. When I tweaked it a little bit the last time I found that I was struggling with doing weights in the gym or upper body exercises.
“I was favouring the side that wasn’t injured, so by getting this procedure done it’s cleared my mind of all of that kind of worry and it means I’m back for the second half of the season.
“Carlisle have been flying without me, so I’ve got my shoulder sorted out and I’m ready to come back and help them to keep that going through the next few months.”
Having got the green light from the medical staff to push on it was then a case of ‘wait and see’ as he found himself recalled, on the bench for his parent club, and then told that he could get back out for another spell on loan, should he wish to do so.
“It’s been a period of mixed emotions really,” he admitted. “I got the opportunity as a sub for Preston and that got my hopes up that I’d maybe get game time and play a bit.
“But, to be fair, they have a good amount of players and a strong squad, so I can understand why the loan option came up again. I’m still young so getting the opportunity to come back to Carlisle is what I wanted to do in the first place.
“Getting the chance to play and express myself is what matters to me, and I think that’s something I’ll get to do here. From there, and when I go back to Preston in the summer, hopefully I’ll have shown the gaffer that I can be ready.
“This is just a great place for me to be and it’s a great experience for me to play for a club that has such a good fan base. With the way the club and fans have been there hasn’t been any pressure put on me and that means I can be myself out on the pitch.
“I want to show the manager and the players what I can do because, like I say, they’ve been fantastic.”
And on watching the results roll in from afar, he told us: “I’ve been watching both Preston and Carlisle as I went through my rehab and I’ve had a few little cheers here and there as the good results came in.
“It feels great to be back, it really does. The first time round I was just trying to get comfortable with it all, but it feels a lot easier this time. I came here knowing I already got on with everybody which is good.
“I’m here to try and get goals and assists, and to work hard for Carlisle United. That’s all I want to do. I’ll take each game as it comes and set myself a target of getting a goal and assist per game.”
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