IN almost a decade at Tottenham Hotspur, Michael Dawson’s focus was solely on the top of the Premier League.
Seven seasons in Europe, all but one earned through league position, is ample illustration of where the priorities usually lay at White Hart Lane.
As a result, relegation scraps were something that troubled other clubs, with even the season that saw Spurs start horrendously under Juande Ramos and be bottom of the table in the autumn end in an eighth place finish under Harry Redknapp.
Now, however, the fight for survival is very much on Dawson’s agenda as Hull City look to clinch an unprecedented third consecutive season of top flight football.
“It is completely different,” said Dawson when asked if the fight for European places was similar to what the Tigers are embroiled in right now.
“But that is why going through the hard times has stood me in good stead. There are times when football doesn’t go your way but you have to keep your chin up and your spirits high.
“Inside, you do have times when you are down and disappointed but you can’t let it affect you. The minute your confidence has gone, you will soon feel it out on that pitch.
“You have got to be mentally strong. The gaffer always talks about that. In the Premier League, you have to be mentally strong.
“Bottom can beat top, like we saw last week at Burnley (who beat Manchester City). Every game in the Premier League is a fight and a battle and one that everyone loves.
“But it means you have to be strong. I learned that at Spurs. I went through hard times there. Under Ramos was a huge learning curve for me, one of the hardest times in my career.
“I was lacking confidence, playing well below par.
“Not just as an individual, as a team. It was not a good time for anyone.
“But, going forward, that has stood me in good stead.
“I do speak now with young players going through the hard times in terms of confidence and tell them how I dealt with it and came back.
“It does make you a stronger player and I want to use that experience.”
Dawson, signed for £4m towards the end of August, has enjoyed a fine first season back in his native Yorkshire.
Barring a couple of short spells out injured, the 31-year-old has been a model of consistency and, even at this stage, must be a leading contender for the club’s Player of the Year award.
With Curtis Davies out of the side after an indifferent spell, the former Spurs defender has worn the captain’s armband and led by example in a defence that has conceded only four goals in his last six matches.
Tomorrow will see one of the Premier League’s outstanding defenders of the past decade – and a former international team-mate of Dawson with England – head to the KC.
John Terry, who Steve Bruce tried to once sign when Huddersfield Town manager for £750,000 only to be scuppered by the centre-half wanting to stay at the Bridge, has been outstanding this term.
Neither Terry nor Dawson feature for the Three Lions any longer, one through choice and the other by being overlooked since making his last international appearance almost exactly four years ago.
Asked if he still harboured hopes of returning to the England set-up, Hull defender Dawson said: “You always dream of pulling that shirt on again, of course you do. But I have been overlooked for three years or more now. Realistically, I just have to concentrate on my club football and playing well for Hull City.”
As for Terry, who had a loan spell at Forest when Dawson was on the groundstaff, the City captain added: “I realise how good he is now and how good he has been for many years.
“He came to Forest (in 2000) when he was a young lad and that was the first I’d heard of him. Then he went back to Chelsea where he grew and grew.
“He was England captain when I first went in. You talk about senior players looking after younger lads and he made feel really welcome. Look at his record as a player and it speaks for itself.
“I played the Wales game with him at the Millennium (that England won 2-0 on March 26, 2011). To have someone like him alongside me on one of my first starts for my country was fantastic. I was nervous and you know what it means, England versus Wales.”
Like Terry, Dawson appears to be getting better with age. His reading of the game has helped the Tigers out countless times this season and it has been clear that regardless of who has been at the back this term, all of them have drawn strength from the assured displays for the Northallerton-born defender.
“You grow in experience,” he added. “I said that towards the end of my time at Spurs. I look at the last two seasons there, how many times I played and how I performed.
“I wouldn’t say my style has changed. I still feel exactly the same as I did when I was 21. Maybe others will say it has changed a little bit but it doesn’t feel like it has to me.
“I still go into tackles like I did when I was 18. I still love it, still get the buzz when I go into training.
“My body still feels good. I have to go in the gym and get ready more now (as a warm-up) when before I would be straight out there kicking balls about. You learn about your body, as you get older.
“As for the team, we hope the defensive record can be the difference but when you defend well it is about the team.
“Every player on our team should be proud when we keep a clean sheet. Defenders probably take more satisfaction but it is a team effort, just like it is going forward.”