HARTLEPOOL United stalwart Neil Austin is feeling fitter than ever and insists he has no intention of playing non-league football next season.
The experienced defender, who joined in the summer of 2009, admits at one stage Pools looked like they were down.
I don’t want to be a Conference player next year, no wayNeil Austin
But he is adamant the dressing room was always confident the tide would eventually turn and with three wins on the trot, Pools now have the momentum needed.
Austin – who turns 32 at the end of April – keeps himself in top condition and he is looking forward to a few more years playing league football before hanging up his boots.
Barnsley-born Austin has started every game this campaign, along with captain Scott Flinders, and he is keen to build on his 466 career appearances.
“I don’t want to be a Conference player next year, no way,” said Austin.
“I feel fit as a fiddle, I’m 31 coming up 32 and firmly believe I still have a good few years left at league level.
“We have always had the believe in the dressing room and it was just a matter of time before we got the results, although at one point it looked like we had been written off.”
Austin – who believes Pools have suffered from a lack of experienced characters this season – has praised the instant impact of Ronnie Moore.
And he admits the squad couldn’t complain about the manger’s infamous rockets – including the line that some players could be working in Asda next season.
He added: “As soon as the gaffer walked through the door he had the instant respect,” added Austin.
“He is old school, a proper manager and he has been around and knows this division inside out.
“Some people may think his words were harsh but with our league position, nobody could really argue with his comments.
“It was a harder job trying to work out which of the players would still be playing in League Two and League One, once we’d got to the bottom of that everybody else was working in Asda!”
Joking aside, the thought of Hartlepool without a Football League club is one that drives Austin to maintain the winning streak to get out of trouble.
“It is massively important we stay up,” added Austin.
“The club is a big part of the town, a bit old school with the smell of Bovril on the terraces.
“Some grounds feel a bit fake, a bit Subbuteo-like.
“Not here, we know how important it is.”
Austin was keeping his cards close to his chest when quizzed over what had gone wrong to leave Pools scrapping for their lives, although he alluded to a lack of characters earlier in the season as a key reason.
But he is confident Pools now have the “right manager to get us up the league”.
He added: “The manager knows when it is the right time to be serious but on the flip side, he knows when to have a laugh too.
“Players come and go and if you get rid of big characters then the dressing room will be quieter.
“The squad we have now is a lot younger than previously, certainly at the start of the season.”