Last season saw the emergence of a trio of Darlington teenagers who successfully came through the ranks to become firmly entrenched in the first-team - and youth team coach Martin Gray hopes he's found eight more to follow their lead.

David McGurk (13 appearances) and Mark Sheeran (23 appearances and six goals), both 19, played vital roles in Darlington's first XI last season and as a result have been rewarded with one-year contracts.

Teenager Adam Rundle, who, unlike the aforementioned pair, has another year to run of his apprenticeship, should feature again next season.

Their emergence has paved the way for the next generation of Darlington youngsters and Gray firmly believes he has recruited some real talent.

After months of hard work and persuasion the eight players he managed to sign up are: John Alexander, Steven Graham, Graham Matthewson, Ben Summers, Liam Hartley, Dale Mendum, Richard Addison and Chris Mason.

"The players we're bringing in this year, I would like to think are a very, very strong bunch of players and in a few years could be very big name players," said Gray.

"The lads that we've brought in like what they see. These players have been to clubs all over the place and decided to sign for us.

"Hartlepool were interested in some of them, but lads come here for a look around and as soon as they come here they want to sign for Darlington because of the way we run things at youth level."

Matthewson, like Rundle from South Shields, is considered a particularly good catch having been snatched away from the prying eyes of several interested clubs.

"Nottingham Forest offered him really good terms to go to them but he knocked them back to come to us after all the good work we put in to get him," explains Gray.

"Alexander was offered a YTS with Wolves and Burnley as well.

"This summer we've taken on four out of our own youth centres and three from Newcastle.

"Matthewson was one of the lads we took from Newcastle. He was offered a YTS at both Nottingham Forest and Burnley so I think that proves we've worked very hard to get players here."

The emergence of Darlington's young trio of talent may not have happened had it not been for the faith displayed by Tommy Taylor who gave the threesome their chance to shine.

In Taylor's first game at the helm he gave Sheeran a 30 minute run-out and Gray admitted: "Tommy coming into the club has been a God-send for me as a youth team manager.

"It's a great selling point to be able to say that I had three in the first-team last season and I had Martin Smith on the bench.

"If you look at Hartlepool, they put Adam Boyd in the team last season, and he's the only one.

"They've signed another couple as pros, but we've got them out there playing."

Although Darlington don't have the reputation for developing, and then selling-on young talent that teams like Crewe have built, over the last ten years Darlington have produced players who have since gone on to play higher up the League ladder.

Preston captain Sean Gregan, Burnley's Robbie Blake and Newcaste's James Coppinger all began their careers at Feethams while Paul Robinson of Wimbledon was given his debut while with Darlington.

And with football's economic stability precarious at the moment, Darlington will have to produce more Gregan's from their youth ranks to survive, and Gray, alongside Football in the Community Officer, Dave Cowling, are doing their utmost to do just that.

Gray said: "People like Iain Leckie and Stuart Gibson, who've now left the club, have to be given a mention because they had dealings with players who are still at the club.

"But we've made a lot of changes to the youth set-up and upset a lot of people along the way and we're not finished yet.

"But that had to be done. I'm not looking for a pat on the back, but there was a job here to do and everyone here has done their bit."

George Dixon, one of the coaches in the club's revamped youth set-up, gave Gray a glowing reference, saying: "As far as I'm concerned, Martin has given this club a massive boost.

"I've got a lot of time for Stuart Gibson, but nobody knew who he was. Martin's only young and he was playing last season.

"When I approach young players now, and I tell them that this guy is now coaching, they all know who is and they want to be coached by him."

But Gray is reluctant to accept all of the praise, and points towards Cowling as a big influence.

He said: "One of the biggest plusses for me, has been Dave Cowling. It was Dave's idea to bring me into the youth set-up and it's been the best thing that has happened to me since I stopped playing.

"He's very highly thought of in the game.

"Scouts might bring in some good players, but you need a good coach to learn from and Dave has been such a good mentor for me. Over the last few months he's been different class.

"He has improved me as a coach."

Following the collapse of ITV Digital, football's finances away from the Premiership have been the subject of examination in recent months and club's - Darlington included - will operate with a sized-down squad next season in order to combat the reduced revenue.

Seven players have left Feethams this summer as their contracts came to an end, and their departure can only have edged the door open for the young talent waiting in the wings for a chance to impress on the professional stage.

Rundle, Sheeran and McGurk all proved they had what it takes when they were given an opportunity last season and next season signals the beginning of eight more careers as another group of wannabee footballers begin their ascent up the football ladder, with the assistance of clubs like Darlington.