WHEN it comes to young players, it’s fair to say Hartlepool United are currently a breeding ground for success.
A year after Luke James was named the apprentice of the year in League One, teammate Bradley Walker has now won the League Two honour for this season.
The midfielder, outstanding and scorer of a spectacular goal in the weekend’s 4-0 thumping of Bristol Rovers, took the award in London on Sunday evening, accompanied by academy manager John Hewitson and boss Colin Cooper.
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Pools were among a handful of clubs to be up for two accolades at the Football League Awards, with James Poole shortlisted for the goal of the season gong, for his individual effort against Notts County in Febuary 2013.
And a former Pools striker in Steve Fletcher was presented with the Sir Tom Finney Award after making over 720 appearances for Bournemouth in a 22-year career.
But it was Walker’s moment, as he collected the accolade and he admitted: “It’s very proud moment – one of my best moments so far. It was an honour to be nominated, but to go and win it, I’m so proud.
“It’s been a very good season and we are only three points off the play-offs, so we can push on and give us a chance.
“I just want us to kick on and push towards promotion – we have the players to do it.’’ Walker, Billingham- based and a former schoolboy at Middlesbrough, made an instant impression on Pools new manager in pre-season training and was moved up to the first-team squad from the youth ranks.
His friendly performances w e r e enough to earn him an instant professional cont r a c t and he has blossomed under the tutelage of Cooper and former assistant boss Craig Hignett.
“I started the season with the youth team and I wasn’t angry, but I felt I could kick on and knew if I had a chance I could take it,’’ admitted Walker, 17.
“The gaffer and Higgy liked me from the o f f and I went to Holland in pre-season , which was positive for me. A lot of the older lads help me so much, and I’m getting so much experience.
“There’s a lot of young players in the first team here, it’s great for us all to be involved.
The gaffer has been very honest with the younger players, he says he knows what we can do and just wants us to go and grasp it.
“I’d like to think we have.
He just tells us to go and play – everyone makes mistakes and he is willing to accept that as part of our development, which means we can play without fear.’’ Walker was injured in the early part of the season, but returned after a month out with an ankle injury. He’s made 33 appearances this season, scoring three spectacular goals.
And he was quick to pay tribute to his more experienced team-mates for giving him a platform to play his natural game.
“Look at Simon Walton, he sits in there in midfield and tells me he will be there for me to go and play with freedom, he will let me kick on and do what I want. He helps me out loads,’’ reflected Walker.
“I’ve scored three goals now and they have all been good ones, but I’d happily take a tap-in.’’ Walker’s promise and potential has already been regonised this season before Sunday’s event.
Twice he’s been training with the England Under-18 squad at St George’s Park.
And, while he’s yet to make his international debut, being selected alongside the cream of the crop in the country is a massive boost for both Pools and the player.
He admitted: “Being involved with the England setup is a great experience, it’s all played at a very high tempo with players there from Premier League clubs and it’s good to mix with them – you are always going to improve as a footballer playing with better players.
“It’s nice to get recognition with England and it’s helped me confidence-wise.
“I know I’m doing something right, so if I can keep doing it then things will come together.
“It’s a credit to the club to be involved with England. It’s down to how well the youth system is set up and how hard everyone works.’’