IT has been quite a year for Michael Duckworth, who is now part of the furniture at Hartlepool United after being plucked from non-league.
The German-born right-back signed for Pools last summer after being recommended to boss Colin Cooper by Duckworth’s former gaffer at Bradford Park Avenue, John Deacey.
His attack-minded approach down the right-hand flank and committed challenges impressed both teammates and fans alike and he soon became a terrace favourite.
Almost 12-months on and the 22-year-old is still loving life at Victoria Park.
But he insists he has no intention of taking his foot off the gas after finally achieving his dream of turning pro.
While he also accepts he has a fight on his hands to keep his place in the team this year, given Pools are well off defensively.
Alongside Duckworth, Cooper can also call on Jordan Richards, Neil Austin, Sam Collins and Darren Holden, alongside new defensive signings Matthew Bates and Stuart Parnaby.
“All the lads at the club are good players, so I don’t feel for one second that I will walk straight into the team this season,” Duckworth said during a break at the La Cala Resort in Spain.
“I still have to work hard to get into the starting line-up – we all do.
“Obviously the gaffer has to pick the team and at the end of the day he will pick the best players.
“The defence is probably the strongest area of the squad, with Aussie (Austin) coming back from his operation.
“He looked fit in the running this week and is fit for his age.
“We also have me, Jordan (Richards), Daz (Holden), Sam (Collins) and both Matthew Bates and Stuart Parnaby have come in and are both really experienced.
“So, there is a lot of competition for places and it will be tough.”
Popular Duckworth turned out 36 times for Pools last season and his only interruptions were two injury absences.
He was back in the side and beginning to re-discover his form though just as the season came to a close.
Duckworth added: “At the start of the year I was pleased with how I had performed.
“My injuries gave me a bit of a setback but I was getting stronger towards the end of the season, which to be honest came at the wrong time for me.
“But this year I will be getting a full pre-season under my belt and this will hopefully be a good year.
“I feel like I have earned my place to be a professional but I am still at the bottom of the ladder and I want to go as far as possible.
“Work hard and play well, who knows where you can go.”
This past week has been hard work in the warm Spanish sun, with temperatures regularly around the 30C mark at the state-of-the-art La Cala Resort, which boasts a FIFA-registered football pitch.
“The training has been really tough and it has been warmer than I expected,” explained Duckworth.
“Most of the lads are not used to this type of climate and it has been a tough week.
“I didn’t go to Holland last year, I came half-way through pre-season but I was excited about coming to Spain because it is all new to me.
“But we are all working hard and getting as fit as we can and I think it makes you appreciate being a professional footballer more, coming to places like this.
“We are not out sunbathing or by the pool all day, we are here to work and at the end of the day this is our job.
“Some of the lads are whiter than others and can’t handle it anyway!”