HARTLEPOOL UNITED have handed a first professional contract to young defender Josh Nearney.

Nearney, 18, is another graduate of the reputable Wallsend Boys Club which produced a long list of names including Alan Shearer , Paul Gascoigne and Steve Bruce.

He was taken to Victoria Park by Colin Cooper a year ago when he left Middlesbrough where the teenager had been playing as an Under-16.

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Nearney impressed playing for Pools’ youth team last season and also made a successful step up to the reserves side.

Cooper believes he has the potential to become an important first team squad member after seeing his willingness to get the ball down and play out from the back.

“I got told at the end of March that I was getting a professional deal and it’s a dream come true for me,” Nearney told Pools Player.

“It’s just amazing and it’s difficult to put it in to words; I’ve been playing football since I was about five and it’s unbelievable that I can finally class myself as a professional footballer.

“I can’t wait to get started now; I’ve been doing work over the summer but I want to come back really fit and try and challenge for the First Team and my professional debut.”

Last week Hartlepool confirmed they had agreed terms to keep full-back Neil Austin, who was set to become a free agent.