FOR the last two seasons, most Hartlepool United players will have had plenty to overcome. Whether it be gruelling climb out of the National League or staving off the threat of relegation from the Football League. For Ben Killip, it’s turned out to be sobering and maturing period of time where he feels he has gone on to play some of the best football of his career.

Life between the sticks can be a lonely venture at times. Make a mistake and there is nowhere to hide. On the flip side, a penalty save or a last minute catch sees all the credit laid at their door. But chasing those moments is something that the Pools number one has come to realise that should not be part of his game or any goalkeepers game. That realisation has come through his time at the Suit Direct Stadium.

“I think I am the second longest serving now other than Feaths (Nicky Featherstone)” said Killip. “I came up here when I was 23 which was young. Now I am 26, that is obviously a lot of growing as a person. It’s a big development age in your career and your life.

“It was new beginnings for me when I moved up here. It took time to get used to it but I think (am a senior player) now for sure. I’ve played over 100 games for the club and getting a bit older, maybe people see me as a bit more senior in the club.

“It’s maturing as a person and as a player. Less erratic, not trying to chase things and just letting things. It’s about being present and keeping calm which at times I’ve not done when I was younger. The last couple of years I’ve been more mature and more of probably what you would want from a goalkeeper.”

Part of his development from fresh faced shotstopper to becoming Pools number one goalkeeper started at one of England’s elite. A place where he was taught to be a footballer before being a goalkeeper.

“At Chelsea, I was there for a long time where you train outfield for the vast majority of the time so you can play with the ball.

“When you’re a kid at Chelsea, you are playing against the best kids in the country at the age so you don’t really have to do much goalkeeping so a lot of your game is based around having the ball at your feet.

“Going onto Norwich where I was playing Under-23’s, it’s false at times. You play, play, play but you don’t really have a choice but you play so you just get very used to being under pressure with the ball. That’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing, taking risks. Probably not the best thing for my position!

“I love having the ball at my feet and I love playing football so I like it when teams press high and managers want to play because I find it dull kicking the ball long. Also, my hips and my quads don’t really hold up too well.”

When Paul Hartley was appointed as Pools boss and they had their initial opening conversations with the players, it was music to Killip’s ears. “I was very excited to find out that was how they wanted to play football when they come in so it’s ideal for me” he added.

Killip first came to the club in 2018 from National League South side Braintree and had a mixed first year at the club. After finding his feet during the Covid-impacted season, Killip grasped the number one shirt with both hands (pardon the pun) for the large majority of the season when Dave Challinor led the side to promotion whilst under the stewardship of goalkeeping coach Ross Turnbull. Despite increased competition for places in their first season back in League Two, Killip has rarely been dislodged between the sticks.

He continued: “Dave Challinor gave me the shirt last season and I’ve managed to keep it.

“First from Jonno (Jonathan Mitchell) and then when Graeme Lee came in, he put me in again and I had the battle with Nick (Nicholas Bilokapic). I think I’ve done well to keep the shirt because they are good goalkeepers.

“Jonno is at Doncaster and playing, Nick is at Huddersfield and he has signed a four-year deal. You’re not competing against nobodies, you’re competing against good keepers so it’s a confidence boost for myself to be able to keep them out the team.

“I think the last 18 months of my career have definitely been the best. I’ve managed to find a good place where I can stay pretty present in the moment and not get carried away or try and do too much to prove what I can do, just let games come to me.

“I’ve managed to control my emotional and mental side of the game a lot which was always probably the problem for me when I was a bit younger.”