HARTLEPOOL UNITED boss Dave Challinor is backing more youth team footballers to make an impression on the first team set-up with the help of Hartlepool College of Further Education.

A number of teenagers wearing the promotion-chasing club’s crest as part of a squad funded by Hartlepool College have already been invited to train with the National League side.

The Pools boss wants those enrolled on the College programme to be excited by what is achievable, suggesting they should be inspired by the emergence of Joe Grey and Brad Young this season under Challinor.

Ian McGuckin, who was youth team coach at Hartlepool for three years, is leading the College scheme as the Head of High Performance Coaching, with another ex-player Ian Clark the High Performance Coordinator.

It is the first academic year the College has supported the club since funding for the academy was stopped and the future of Hartlepool’s Under-18s was placed in doubt.

With McGuckin and Clark currently sifting through applications and a recruitment drive for September, Challinor is convinced opportunities will be there for the most talented and determined players to step up.

Challinor said: “The College programme, although different to previous years, still holds the same importance now as before and still maintains, amongst many others, the objective of providing a pathway to Hartlepool United’s first team for local players.

“The club has produced many players over the years and this is still a hugely important aspect for a club like ours. The proof for the young players is very apparent with both Joe Grey and Brad Young integral parts of our first team squad and both attracting interest from Premier League clubs.

“If you are good enough but most importantly have and maintain the attitude to improve and work hard, you will succeed. It’s a new programme with great infrastructure that will only increase and develop year on year. Hopefully more players will make the step up in the near future.”

Challinor and first team coach Antony Sweeney are kept up to date with the development of those enrolled on the Hartlepool College’s programme with strong and regular communication.

Despite the restrictions placed on the group and its training plans during the Covid-19 pandemic, McGuckin and Clark have still delivered online sessions and demanded fitness schedules are followed.

“Some of the lads have gone to train with the first team and Oli Cann went up and played against Sunderland in a friendly not long ago,” said Clark.  

“We have had five lads train with the first team. If needed there is still the progression there. They have been given an opportunity to experience training to a level. Just to be in that environment, a full-time professional, is huge for them.”

The College’s message isn’t just centred on developing players for Hartlepool either, with a number of them also making Northern League appearances before lockdown, such as Harry Close scoring for Billingham Town.

McGuckin already has an eye on the new intake who will follow a professional football club-based schedule while studying a full extended diploma in sport, or something else in other cases.

He said: “We haven’t been able to follow a normal recruitment for next year, like having trials. We have had to do the groundwork, make contact with district managers etc.

“It’s the same recruitment process the club would have had if the College wasn’t involved. We identify lads who have been released from Middlesbrough, Newcastle and Sunderland. Offer a proposal.

“We are not saying they will be in the first team, but we can show that some of our players could get there.

“We would like to have a bigger cohort in September than we did last year. We would like to double that, then the year after that have 17s and 18s.

“We would like to develop things and as well as develop people we will hopefully develop footballers for Hartlepool United too.”

*For further information about any of the courses on offer at Hartlepool College check out www.hartlepoolfe.ac.uk and for the Hartlepool United programme email ian.clark@hartlepoolfe.ac.uk