Keiren Westwood wants to stay at Sheffield Wednesday after admitting he thought his Owls career was over.
The Republic of Ireland international was rated the best goalkeeper in the Championship before an injury in December, 2017.
The 34-year-old was then frozen out by Jos Luhukay – he never played under the Dutchman – and it took a change of manager to end Westwood’s first-team exile.
Westwood was recalled on December 22 after 12 months out and four clean sheets in six league games have followed for a tightened defence, which had conceded more goals than any other team in the Championship.
Now, after being reunited at Hillsborough with Steve Bruce – the manager who signed him for Sunderland in 2011 – Westwood is hoping to earn a new contract with his current deal expiring in the summer.
“It’s never easy not playing, it’s like a kick in the teeth,” said Westwood. “It was tough, but I am a professional and have played since I was 17 – I am 34 now – and have seen everything, whether it’s happened to me or a team-mate.
“There were a few chances to go in the summer, but for whatever reason they didn’t materialise.
“I did think it was over, if I am honest. But Jos leaving opened the door for me. I was only injured for the back end of last season. I have been fit since pre-season and trained every day.
“I know it sounds daft, but I feel fitter than I have ever been.
“That’s gone now, it’s probably made me a stronger person for it. I am not a bitter guy, I don’t hold grudges.”
Westwood believes if Luhukay had remained at Wednesday he “probably would have gone” in last month’s January transfer window, Leeds United one of several clubs linked with him.
Now he hopes to extend his five-year stay at Hillsborough and fight with youngsters Cameron Dawson and Joe Wildsmith for the goalkeeping jersey.
“I haven’t spoke about a new deal, but this is my fifth season and it’s been great,” he said. “I have loved it here since day one.
“I am just concentrating on playing. Obviously I only got in at the end of December.
“In January just gone, if Jos was still here, I probably would have gone or maybe just had to sit out my contract.
“It’s a fantastic football club. I have been here for five years and have a great relationship with the club, whether it’s in the kitchen or on the terraces. I don’t see why I would like that to change, but that’s out of my hands. Contract situations lie with Mr Chansiri and the gaffer.”
Not that a new deal would be required for Westwood to be a regular visitor to Hillsborough next season and beyond.
“Even if I am not here I probably still would end up coming (next season),” he smiled. “I have three kids, two young lads who are Sheffield Wednesday daft.
“They are my five-year-old – I have been here for five years – and the two-year-old who is asking ‘Alexa’ to play Hi Ho Sheffield Wednesday.
“So I will probably end up getting a season ticket when I am finished, sitting up in the stands.”