July 18, 2024

Official Fairwel: Ipswich brought up legend has finally called it a quit” As team mates and fans set for special…

Dominic Ball was recently released by Ipswich Town after playing his part in back-to-back promotions. Stuart Watson spoke to the midfielder about his time at Portman Road.

Every major sporting success story has a number of unsung heroes who placed the good of the many before the good of the individual. At Ipswich Town, Dominic Ball has undoubtedly been one of them. Although the midfielder leaves after just five league starts in two seasons, manager Kieran McKenna stated in his statement when the retained list was made public earlier this month that the player was a major contributor to back-to-back promotions.

“Kayden Jackson and Dominic have both made significant contributions to the team’s success on the field and off the field, where they have played pivotal roles in establishing standards and creating a culture that have been critical to the club’s growth,” the author stated. “It would be incorrect to minimize their contributions to everything the club has accomplished.”

We sit down to remember Ball’s time in Suffolk, and he smiles at those words.

He says, “I had followed Ryan McKenna’s career since then and always stayed in touch. He was my coach at Spurs’ youth team.” “I had a slight interest in moving to Ipswich as soon as he was hired there. From the beginning of the talk in March/April, I became obsessed with the idea that this was the best course of action for me.

“Everyone can see why Kieran was my primary draw today. I remembered how much he loved playing on the field and how incredible his training was. Ten years later, I was curious to see what his first-team manager training would entail, since after that he joins Man United and gets promoted to assistant manager. It was different when we reunited, I realized.

“Personality-wise he was the same. I think he’s even calmer now than he was back then, which is a surprise. This is a manager at a top club with expectations and pressure, but he was able to still stay quite calm throughout the season.

“I can’t work out how he’s got time to do everything he does. We’d sit and talk about normal things for 20 minutes in the morning, then you’d go out to the session and it flowed perfectly. I’m gutted I won’t be working with him again.”

He had the same personality. Surprisingly, I believe he’s even more composed now than he was then. Even though he was under pressure as the manager of a premier team, he managed to maintain his composure the entire season. “How he finds the time to do everything he does is beyond me. The morning sessions went smoothly; after twenty minutes of sitting down and talking about everyday stuff, you were taken outside to the session. I’m heartbroken to be parting ways with him once more.

Ball was one of the first signings of McKenna’s first summer transfer window in charge of Ipswich, dropping down a division as a free agent having been a Championship regular for QPR for much of the previous three years.

“For 10-12 years of my career I’d never had an injury, then I signed for Ipswich and picked up a little ankle one in pre-season that I couldn’t get right for a few weeks,” he explains, looking back on that false start.

“Then when I got back fit the boys were playing well, so I just had to be patient. Eventually I got my chance (after an injury to Lee Evans), but in the first couple of minutes of that crazy Charlton game (which ended 4-4 after a flurry of stoppage-time goals) I did something to my knee. Having not been injured before, I just thought ‘hopefully it eases off’ and played on. The adrenaline got me through the game, I took a few days off, returned to training, played against Bracknell in the FA Cup and as that game went on I realised I couldn’t push off on my knee. The manager was shouting, ‘Dom, any chance?!’ and I was like, ‘Gaffer, I can’t run!’ Eventually, after about 60 minutes, I had to come off.

“I had the scan and was told I wouldn’t be able to play for the rest of the season. That was hard, but my next thought was ‘I need to get back and help the team in any way I possibly can’.

“Eventually I got back in the squad in the first week in April, at Bolton away. It was nice that period. I was coming off the bench most of the games and I did feel like I’d helped to get us that promotion.

“Barnsley obviously stands out. You looked across at that stand that night, with everyone standing and singing, and it felt like a home game. I think we all knew, deep down, that was the big one.

Although we were all having trouble, it was encouraging to get off to a decent start in that last game against Fleetwood. To put it another way, after all the (promotion) festivities, we were a different team that day! “That’s why we prepare the way we do, because if you don’t then you get performances and results like that,” we stated to each other after the game. But since we had been promoted so elegantly, it didn’t matter if we didn’t win the title.

Naturally, Town then defied the odds to continue and earn an automatic promotion twice with essentially the same team. Can Ball now, looking back at last summer, disclose what the campaign’s aim had been? To be honest, we didn’t actually have one. He chuckles. “Midway through the preseason, every club I’ve been to has a meeting where the topic is, ‘What are our goals, what are we trying to get to?'” However, that was untrue. That amounted to nothing more than “we have to keep improving as a team individually, collectively, and as units”! I was hoping for more, but it never materialized.

“I think we were top four, or something like that, when it came to the odds on teams to go up. That surprised me initially, but then we played Leipzig and Werder Bremen in pre-season, massive clubs in Europe, and there wasn’t really a difference. I came out of those games thinking ‘we’ve got a really good shot here’.

“Winning that first game against Sunderland was massive. I was sitting there on the bench thinking ‘this is a really good standard’ and from that game everyone realised we had to up it in every way possible. And we did. As the season went on you could see the improvement all over.”

With Sam Morsy and Massimo Luongo an established midfield partnership, Ball continued to find his chances limited. Keeping training competitive, starting in the cups and coming on late to help see out tight league games was his remit.

“In January there was an opportunity for me to go out on loan, but I really felt we were going to do something special by that point and there was no way I was going to miss that,” he says.

“Not long after I didn’t go on loan, for a short period, I regretted it. Then I thought, just as in the previous season, ‘let’s do everything I can to help this team get promoted’. And that was what I did.”

He continued: “I always felt like I was ready, even if it was for three minutes at the end of a game. Even if you have just five or six interactions, they’re all really important. If I come on, lose my man at a set-piece and he scores then that could be us losing a point or three points which could make the difference in the end.

“That group culture was really built at the training ground. It was competitive every day. We all expected a level of professionalism and standards. You didn’t allow people to drop below a level. I think I played my part in that.

“We all wanted the same thing and were willing to do whatever it took to get there. There were no bad eggs at all. We all just bought into it. I think you could see that with the celebrations on the pitch and on the bench. We were doing something special with our mates. It’s rare to have that and, along with the coaching, I think that was the difference.”

On the celebrations which followed promotion to the Premier League, Ball said: “On the Saturday night I was out with my wife and a few family members and we couldn’t get in anywhere! Monday we had the bus parade and that left me speechless. Every time we turned a corner I thought ‘there can’t be many more left’, then we came into the park and there was a sea of people. It was that moment that maybe me realise what we’d done had changed a lot of peoples’ lives.

“Then, on the Wednesday, we all go out with Ed Sheeran. That was just incredible. It just felt so normal, which is weird because I was star-struck the first time he came in the changing room. When it was my turn to sing with him though I just went blank! I know every single one of his songs, I know every lyric, but I couldn’t do it. We ended up singing an Ipswich Christmas song. It’s amazing he’s part of it. For the lads that was just the icing on the cake. Then the next day we went to Vegas. It was a pretty crazy few days.”

When League One promotion was secured, players like Greg Leigh and Kyle Edwards departed the club with a tinge of sadness and wave of goodwill. That is the case again this summer with the likes of Ball, Kayden Jackson and Janoi Donacien.

“It’s been amazing at Ipswich, but I’ve got that fire in my belly to go and play some games now,” said the 28-year-old.

“I don’t know exactly where that’s going to be right now, but I’m excited to go somewhere and implement a lot of things I’ve learnt at Ipswich. I want to go somewhere and win, get promoted and do all the things we’ve done here. Let’s see what the future brings. There have been a few offers, but it’s still quite early. I’ve just got to be patient and wait for the right package.”

Just as Ipswich staff, players and supporters will look out for what’s next for Ball and co, he too will be keeping an eye on the Blues.

I’ll definitely be looking out for Ipswich. I can’t wait to watch them. It’s exciting. I hope that they go and smash it. I’ll always love the club.

“I don’t want to say ‘we’re going to stay up’ or ‘we’re going to be top 10’ or anything like that. But with the manager and the staff there, the culture, having just done something that people said was impossible, I do think they can do well again. The fans have certainly got a lot to look forward to.

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