There is no bigger indicator of how much Chris Baird’s Derby County career has transformed than the fact that he was well and truly in the running for the club’s Player of the Year award.And quite rightly so too.
In total, the 35-year-old clocked up 37 appearances for the Rams in 2016/17; using all of his experience to perform at a consistently high level that has seen him, justly, rewarded with a one-year extension to his contract.
Who would have seen that coming after how his first year at the club unravelled?
The 2015/16 season started well enough after he signed from West Bromwich Albion. Baird was a regular starter before he sustained a head injury at Preston North End in September and after that the former Northern Ireland international only played a further nine times before he joined his former club Fulham on loan.
He was a man on the periphery, but he always kept himself ready and he always kept himself prepared should the chance arise.
Cyrus Christie’s foot injury in the 3-2 win at Wolves presented him that opportunity and once it came, he never looked back.
Reflecting back, Baird told RamsTV: “Last season, when I got the head injury at Preston, the boys went on that unbelievable run of results and it was difficult to get back in the team at that point. By the time I was close, the season was nearly over.
“This time around, though, it has been completely different. I feel like I have had a fantastic season.
“I’m delighted with how it has changed, especially after my first year, which didn’t go as expected.
“To turn that around, I am absolutely thrilled to have played 37 games this time. Cyrus (Christie) got injured at the time and I just took my chance.
“Holding down one position always helps. I have done that, playing in different positions, throughout most of my career, but I have played most of it at right back. I know the position well.
“Wherever the manager needs me, I will be there. I’m just happy to be out on the pitch and playing football again.
“I’m delighted that I am staying, I am enjoying my football and hopefully we can do good things next season.”
On that note, Baird’s certainly a man who is looking forward to working a lot more with Gary Rowett.
The players may not be returning to the Training Centre in partnership with the University of Derby until the end of June, but the preparation work for the 2017/18 campaign is already well and truly underway.
Pre-season has been earmarked as a key time for the club, but the work will be beginning a lot sooner than that for the players.
Baird explained: “We have been given a few things to do over the summer.
“I will take a couple of weeks off where I am going to do nothing but spend some quality time with the family.
“After that, I’ll crack on with the work that we have been set. It’s going to be tough, but that’s pre-season for you.
“I have covered so many miles over my career! I don’t look forward to any pre-season, but I am looking forward to it under this manager and, hopefully, a fantastic season ahead.”
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