'After two or three years you realise it's not a friendly business' - Jake Carroll's older, wiser and happier at Motherwell
It's the Saturday before Christmas and Motherwell have made the 35-mile trip to face Kilmarnock. This may not be the sort of fixture to capture the imagination anywhere other than in these footballing heartlands of Scotland, but there is drama in the air and plenty on the line.
Kilmarnock are without a manager after Angelo Alessio was sacked on the Tuesday before the game.
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The word on the street, the airwaves, on television and in the papers is of a player revolt against the Italian. The Kilmarnock dressing room is apparently a toxic one and that has cost Alessio - one of Antonio Conte's former assistants at Juventus, Italy and Chelsea - his job.
"A load of c**p," Dubliner Gary Dicker, the Kilmarnock captain, insists.
But none of this is any concern at all for Motherwell's Jake Carroll.
His club are on the up and, managed by former Northern Ireland international Stephen Robinson, looking to reach the Europa League qualifiers for the first time in five years.
Victory will take Motherwell - on the outskirts of Glasgow and therefore deep in the Old Firm catchment - into third spot, well adrift of the big two but away from a chasing pack led by Aberdeen.
The game is tight, chances are at a premium and the 5,688 in attendance don't have much to keep them going.
And then Carroll steps up, striking a fine 25-yard free-kick from a central position beyond Juventus loanee Laurentiu Constantin Branescu.
The visitors win 1-0. Carroll is mobbed by team-mates and staff at full-time. He is interviewed on the pitch by the club's social media team as the 700-plus supporters that have travelled stay back to sing his name.
Carroll, from Lucan in Co Dublin, is the last to leave the pitch, taking more pats on the back and high fives as he heads down the tunnel.
He's happy. He's feeling the love and, more than that, feeling as if he is part of something special at Motherwell.
"We're f*****g flying," he beams. "It's a really happy camp here. The lads are great, they're a great bunch to be honest. That isn't always the case in football. Everyone is in it together and it's f****n' quality.
"Europa League is something for us to aim for now, that is definitely the aim and it would be unbelievable to do it with these lads."
Carroll is 28 now and been plying his trade in Britain since 2013 when Huddersfield Town signed him from St Patrick's Athletic at 22. He had just completed a degree at Maynooth University - they have a link with the club - and rejected the advances of Bournemouth.
"People don't realise I'm that old, the baby face is a big help," he laughs. "That's not a bad thing at all in this game, that's for sure. It's helped me get a few contracts."
Not all of them have worked out for the left-back. Mark Robins was the Huddersfield manager when he arrived in the days before they hit the big time in the Premier League.
There was a loan spell at Bury, then an early taste of Scottish football with Partick Thistle, before eventually his time with Huddersfield came to a permanent end.
A move to Hartlepool United in England's northeast followed, where he spent a couple of years, and he was back on his travels again in 2017 when Cambridge United brought him to the south of the country.
These experiences have not quite left him scarred, but certainly wary.
"The quality of football in Scotland is good, it is disrespected in England but when you are here you realise the history clubs have and how important it is to people.
"The boys here, they are similar to the boys back home in the League of Ireland. They are good lads, good craic. I was at Cambridge last year, it's night and day compared to the lads here.
"Changing room wise, there were lads sitting in their own groups, no one really spoke to each other. You come up here and lads are going out for food, we socialise together.
"At the start, when I left Pat's and moved over here, it's hard because you're trying to make friends with everyone. After two or three years you realise it's not a friendly business. You can't really come in and try to make friends.
"You have to be ruthless and you have to become so strong-minded and mentally tough just to be able to survive every day.
"You have a bad game and you see people giving you abuse or bitching about you. It's just ruthless.
"You could have four or five bad games, you're out of contract and you're gone. So you enjoy it when it's going well and you're playing.
"There are extremes when you're struggling and as I've got older I've got better with it, better at coping. I have more confidence in myself."
Despite all this, Carroll has been letting his younger brother Jordan crash in his place as he does the rounds on trial with various clubs after his release by Shamrock Rovers.
"He knows it's up to him, he knows how tough it will be," Carroll states.
The same goes for his own Ireland ambitions.
Despite incoming senior manager Stephen Kenny being a close family friend - they lived in the same estate in Lucan when he was manager of Bohemians - Carroll knows that will have no bearing when he begins to mould his squad.
"All I can do is my best, really. There are League of Ireland boys getting in now, so why can't I? This league can get overlooked, but you have big games here: Celtic, Rangers, Hearts, Hibs. They are massive games. We have the chance of Europe now too."
Carroll knows not to expect a helping hand.