KEIREN Westwood has spelled out his determination to reclaim the number one spot at Sunderland - and revealed how a sickness bug ruined his season.
After moving to Wearside last summer, Westwood looked to have established himself in the Black Cats' first team when he started eight successive matches in November and December.
However, he was forced to miss the New Year's Day game with Manchester City through illness and was unable to dislodge Simon Mignolet from the starting line-up in the remainder of the campaign.
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Martin O'Neill will reassess his goalkeeping options this summer, with Craig Gordon unlikely to be offered a new deal, and Westwood is desperate to get his career back on track.
"I am up for the fight next season," said the Republic of Ireland international. "But I know it will be difficult when only one keeper can play.
"The manager has to make a difficult decision and I want to make it even harder. I want to play.
"I'm 27 and sitting on the bench is not my cup of tea. It is not why I play football and it is the first time since I got into the team at Carlisle at 20 that I have experienced it.
"Saturday afternoon is the most important day of the week, having the buzz of driving to the stadium and seeing people come to see you play is like nothing. And it has been a while since I have experienced it now.
"It gets thrown at you that you get paid more than decent money, so just be happy, but that is not me. And it is hard as a keeper because he (O'Neill) can only pick one.
"I keep working incredibly hard, but it is a new scenario for me and anyone who tells you they enjoy being on the bench might as well not be in football."
While Mignolet started the season as Sunderland's number one, Westwood stepped up to make his Premier League debut when his Belgian team-mate was injured in October's draw with Aston Villa.
He performed well, contributing to crucial victories over Blackburn and QPR at the start of O'Neill's reign, but was hit by a sickness bug over the New Year period.
As a result, what should have been a personal highlight at the start of the year turned into something of a disaster.
"I worked hard to get in the side and waited a long time for my chance to play in the Premier League," said Westwood. "I felt I'd done well enough to stay in the side and the bug, especially for the City game, was a real kick in the teeth.
"I had loads of family staying at the house the night before and while they were all downstairs having dinner, I was upstairs hugging the toilet.
"A bug had been going round the club and I got it. I was up from 4am being sick. I rang the club doc six hours before kick-off because I was in such a bad way.
"What was supposed to be a fantastic occasion for me turned into the biggest nightmare possible. But I am a big believer in fate and that everything happens for a reason.
"It's made me stronger mentally as I have never had to deal with not playing before. I've kept my head down, worked hard and I'll take my experiences with me and hopefully be stronger as a footballer and a person."
Having spent the majority of the season on the substitutes' bench, Westwood is set to spend much of the next two months as a number two.
However, this time there will be pride as well as a degree of frustration as the Manchester-born shot-stopper acts as Shay Given's understudy at the European Championships.
"The Euros have kept me going," said Westwood, whose most recent appearance for Ireland came in August's goalless draw with Croatia. "I love playing for Ireland, it means the world to me, and I'm delighted, very proud and honoured to make the squad.
"It is a fantastic tournament and we are all looking forward to it. I suspect Ireland will be very quiet because everyone will all be over in Poland. I want to go over there and keep Shay on his toes and be ready if I get a chance.
"He is undoubtedly the best keeper I have seen play for Ireland, but I don't know if he has really had anyone pushing him.
"The aim with moving to the Premier League was to play consistently at the top level and put him under pressure. I got a brief taste, but it hasn't really worked out the way I hoped."