BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
FROM being brutally frozen out at Sheffield United to enduring injury woes in Fife, Joel Coustrain readily admits 2016 has been a year to forget.
However, Irish eyes are finally smiling again after the lad from Limerick marked his first start for Raith Rovers in style.
The 20-year-old opened his account for the Kirkcaldy men on Tuesday evening, dancing in from the right-flank before unleashing a fine drive beyond Ayr United goalkeeper Greg Fleming, via a slight deflection.
It was an illustration of the potential of Coustrain as he adjusts to the demands of life in Scotland and battles back to full fitness following his summer arrival from Bramall Lane.
While a 1-1 draw against the Honest Men was hardly the ideal result – Gary Harkins ultimately rescuing a point for the visitors – he hopes it is an evening which proves a watershed in his young career.
“When I first came in to the club I had an injury with my groin and that recurred two or three times, so it was just a case of trying to build my fitness up,” he said.
“It was difficult because I didn’t do much from January onwards, when it was clear Sheffield United were letting me go.
“It was really frustrating because when you come to a new club you want to make an impact and do well. It’s difficult sitting at home in a new country, then you come to work and you can’t really train or play to the best of your ability.
“It’s not great being on the bench, either, when you want to play and show people what you can do.
“So I was delighted to hear I was starting – it’s my first one for the club – and nice to cap it with a goal, it might have taken a bit of a deflection, but I’m definitely claiming it as mine . . . it was going on target!”
Coustrain’s slow start to life in Kirkcaldy is understandable, given how his three-year association with Sheffield United crumbled.
The Ireland under-19 international was informed by previous Blades boss Nigel Adkins that he would not be offered a new deal in January, however he was forced to see out the final six months of his contract alongside a small band of fellow outcasts.
But evidently Coustrain subscribes to the ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ school of thought.
“At Sheffield United, they told me I was leaving but I had to stay [until end of contract]. A few of the boys just had to train by ourselves,” he recalled. “We weren’t allowed to train with the other boys or play matches.
“That was really hard but it all makes you stronger. To go through that, while living away from home, toughens you up mentally.”
With Raith Rovers not involved in the Scottish Cup third round this weekend, Coustrain and Co. are afforded a slight hiatus, however the tricky winger is desperate to retain his starting berth when the Kirkcaldy side host Morton next Saturday.
“The future is hopefully bright now. Even when you are at a good club, there can be ups and downs, but I’m just looking to stay injury-free, get a run in the team and kick on,” added Coustrain. “I believe I can make an impact.
“I’m feeling fit and well now and hopefully I can string together another few starts and some more goals.”