Paddy McCarthy tells Chris Burton that Crystal Palace are ready to make a noise in the Championship.
Last Updated: 11/10/11 6:17pm
The last two seasons have seen Crystal Palace preserve their Championship status on the final weekend and the penultimate weekend of the respective campaigns.
Battling to avoid the drop has become something of an unwelcome habit for the Eagles, with it a miracle anyone at Selhurst Park still has any fingernails left.
Palace are, however, a club with top flight pedigree, with sporadic spells having been spent among the Premier League elite since the division's inception back in 1992.
The club have been relegated from and promoted to that lofty level on four occasions, with their last spell at English football's top table coming in 2004/05.
Since then they have flirted with the idea of a return to the Promised Land, with play-off heartache suffered on two occasions.
They have been held back by goings on off the field at times, though, with administration representing one particular low.
Bouncing back from such a blow has not been easy, with the club having been careful to take steady, tentative steps in the right direction, rather than try and break back into a full sprint.
There are signs that their recovery is close to completion, with a positive opening to the 2011/12 campaign boding well.
The club currently sit handily-placed in mid-table, with the likes of Nottingham Forest, Reading, Birmingham and Portsmouth below them.
No-one at Selhurst Park will be getting carried away just yet, but there is a growing feeling that better times lie ahead.
A lot of hard work has gone in to lifting the dark clouds, but bright chinks of light are starting to pour down on the South London outfit.
In an effort to gain a greater insight into the mind-set of the club as they attempt to force their way back into promotion contention, skysports.com's Chris Burton recently caught up with Palace's on-field leader, club captain Paddy McCarthy.
"I think we have made a decent enough start, apart from the Doncaster game when we didn't play to the standards that we have set ourselves," he said.
"But every game apart from that, I think we have played well and in a lot of those games we have got positive results out of them. We did have a bit of a sticky period at the start of the month - with Middlesbrough at home, Leeds away and then Doncaster - but you are going to go through spells like that in a season. All in all, we have made a positive enough start and there is plenty of positivity around the place. I think things are moving forward for the football club.
"The standards around the football club are getting raised and the bar has been raised. The players and the manager and the coaches are all on board with that. I'm enjoying going into work every day and the lads are working their socks off to improve day in, day out. Apart from the Doncaster game when we didn't play anywhere near our best, if we had maybe got a little bit of a rub of the green we would be doing even better. But the lads have shown good character to pick up some positive results in the last couple of games."
The appointment of Dougie Freedman as manager appears to have been the catalyst for the upturn in fortune, with the former fans' favourite having stepped up from a caretaker role in January 2011.
"The gaffer came in last January and I think straight away we started picking up points," said McCarthy.
"From this time last year we have been working hard on all aspects. Everything around the football club has improved - the preparation towards games is getting better, the standards around the training ground are getting better and the manager is demanding those levels from everybody. The lads are responding to that and are enjoying working hard and improving, not just as individuals but as a team. Anyone that comes to our games can see the effect that is having."
Freedman is keen to build on his initial success this season and, with a full summer under his belt, McCarthy is confident Palace have the ideal candidate to steer them forward.
"He has brought in his own players and the calibre of players he has brought in has been fantastic," he said.
"He has brought in international players and that can only improve us as a squad. Looking around the squad now, I think last year we were crying out to get players in on loan during the emergency loan window. But I wouldn't say that is the case at the moment. Everyone is pushing each other and it is making for a healthy squad.
"I have been quoted as saying before that he has been at the club as a player, as a coach under Paul Hart and now as a manager. Even before he got job, his mind was focused on what he could do for the football club. His appointment has been really positive and has had a big impact on the squad. There is a great atmosphere around the changing room. The lads are enjoying playing at the moment."
Belief is now coursing through Palace's veins, with McCarthy of the opinion that the club are in a much better state of health now than they were when he arrived in 2008.
He said: "Definitely, 100 per cent. I feel this club is definitely going places. I think everybody knows now that if they aren't pulling their weight, they will be out. The standards around the place are getting raised and the gaffer wants people to buy into that. If they don't buy into that, it's on you go. That's the attitude everybody has got and everyone is working hard every single day, Monday to Friday.
"Results have been decent enough and performances have been a lot better. We have also got a good bunch of young lads coming through and some older pros. I think that's helped to make it a good squad."Palace are famed for their production of promising talent and McCarthy admits that he expects the latest crop of youngsters to go on to bigger and better things.
He said: "You have got a fantastic bunch of young lads. With all due respect, I think if they keep on going like they are, I think they will be playing Champions League football. If they keep working hard on their game, listen to the people at this club in and around them and put the work in, it won't be long before these lads - Jonathan Williams, Wilfried Zaha, Sean Scannell, Nathaniel Clyne - are playing Champions League football. But first and foremost they have to perform week in, week out for Crystal Palace and maybe, realistically, use the club as a stepping stone. A lot of players have done that in the past, but I think that will benefit Crystal Palace in the long run."
It is imperative that the club continue to produce home-grown stars as the money spent by the likes of second tier rivals Leicester and West Ham continues to make their job all the more difficult.
McCarthy said: "It does. The league is probably the most competitive that I have known in all the years that I've played in it. But, saying that, there aren't any teams that I'm going to lose sleep over.
"I'm comfortable with what we have in the changing room, with the young lads - I think if you tried to go out and buy those sorts of players, you would be spending millions of pounds. It is fantastic for the club to keep producing these kids. They are young lads with Crystal Palace in their blood as well, so they want do well not just as individuals but for the club they grew up supporting. It all bodes well for a bright future for the club."
Those in the Palace camp may be aware that steps are being taken in the right direction, but they are reluctant to start putting down markers.
"We haven't really set any specific targets, but we go into work each day hopeful that we can get a result from our next game - home or away," said McCarthy.
"Our record at Selhurst has been good over the last year or so, but home or away we have the squad to go and compete with every team in this division. We are sitting in mid-table now, just in the top half, and it's not a bad position to be in at this stage. If we can be in and around there at Christmas and have a good Christmas period, then you never know. The Championship is so unpredictable that you have to go into every game and try your best and work harder than the opposition to get three points."
McCarthy is prepared to play his part in those efforts, with the Irish defender admitting he is playing some of the best football of his career.
He said: "Yeah, I am feeling fitter than I have ever done in my career. I feel fitter now than I did was I was 21 years of age. The club are doing all the right things on and off the pitch now and I think that is helping me as a player. I am enjoying my football at the moment. I am going to work with a smile on my face and I am happy at home as well, so I'm enjoying it."
As skipper, McCarthy also has to shoulder the added responsibility of setting the standard on and off the field, but he claims to revel in the role.
"There is a responsibility, but I think to be captain you have to be a certain type of character and I don't think I have changed," he said.
"Even if I wasn't captain, I would still be doing the same things around the place. It's a responsibility I've been given throughout my career at various clubs and it's something I do enjoy, but I think we have got what we need in the changing room at the moment and that will help us to move forward."