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Walsall's Neil Etheridge: I doubted if I would ever make it

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He's now widely regarded as one of the best shot-stoppers in League One.

But Walsall keeper Neil Etheridge felt his chance of making it as professional may have passed him by just three years ago.

After coming through the ranks as a youngster at Fulham, the Enfield-born gloveman spent four months out of the game after being released from Craven Cottage. And that time away led to Etheridge wondering whether he would ever fulfil his potential.

"At that time in my career I questioned whether I would ever play football again," the Philippines international said.

"It was very difficult. I believed in my ability and what I could bring to a team, but nobody was giving me a chance.

"I was finding it really hard to keep faith in what I believed in.

"I signed for Oldham but only ever played one game for them.

"It was a tough experience for me and that period showed me the highs and lows of football."

After a similarly brief stint at Charlton, Etheridge was snapped up by the Saddlers in July 2015 where he began working with coach Neil Cutler.

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And the 27-year-old believes Cutler has taken his game to a new level.

"Cuts has been fantastic," Etheridge continued. "When I walked through the door nearly two seasons ago I knew he was somebody who knew his stuff.

"He had so much enthusiasm and understood me as a human being.

"When I arrived, I don't think many people understood me on or off the field.

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"I'm quite a complex character and sometimes it takes people time to warm to me.

"But Cuts understood I am laid back and enjoy a joke, but I take my work extremely seriously.

"He has taken me to another level."

Etheridge believes his all-round game has improved since moving to the Banks's Stadium.

Neil Etheridge

"I feel, all-round, my goalkeeping had improved massively," he said. "I think I have been able to make saves that two years ago I wouldn't have been able to make.

"But it's not just shot-stopping. It's how I command my box and my starting position.

"There are certain things we have worked on consistently and I've never stopped learning."

Walsall saw their hopes of finishing in the League One play-offs ended before the international break with back-to-back defeats to Fleetwood and Southend.

Jon Whitney's side currently sit 12th in the table with just seven games remaining.

Overall though, Etheridge feels it has been a successful campaign.

"I'd say this has been a building season," he added. "A lot of players left the club last summer but we've built a team now and had time to find our feet.

"We're in mid-table and we'll do everything we can to finish as high as possible.

"But for me this is a very good season to build on.

"The likes of Leyton Orient and Swindon reached the play-offs, lost players and ended up getting relegated.

"But we've proved that we are a resilient team that won't find ourselves in that position. The manager has another year experience under his belt and the club can move forward and be in an even stronger position this time next year."

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