Will Hayhurst is eager to be the talk of the Deepdale terraces once more when the new season gets under way for Preston North End tomorrow.
Preston kick off the new League One campaign at home to Notts County and the cultured left-winger is hoping to reignite his North End career.
The 20-year-old, who comes from Chipping, became something of a forgotten man during the last campaign after introducing himself to the PNE faithful in spectacular fashion the season before last.
After making his debut as an 18-year-old for his boyhood club at the end of the 2011/12 season, Hayhurst featured sporadically at the start of the following campaign, before finally being given his chance by current first-team coach John Dreyer, after previous boss Graham Westley was sacked.
His performance in a 2-0 win over Bournemouth at Deepdale captured the imagination of everybody connected with the club and he retained his place in the side for the first match of Simon Grayson’s tenure a week later at Swindon Town.
He scored with a left-footed volley at the back post – a day before his 19th birthday – to earn North End a point at the County Ground.
And that goal signalled the start of a mini-purple patch as he found the back of the net in the next two games.
He continued to catch the eye down the left wing – scoring again in a 2-0 win over Oldham Athletic at Deepdale – as North End finished the season strongly.
Hayhurst was expected to become a significant figure for the club the following season.
But he found himself on the periphery as the team cemented their place as genuine promotion candidates.
After making just 10 appearances, Hayhurst went out on loan to League Two outfit York City at the end of the January transfer window to get some games under his belt.
He featured 20 times for the Minstermen and helped them reach the play-offs, where they were narrowly beaten in the semi-finals by Graham Alexander’s Fleetwood Town.
Hayhurst believes the period he spent out on loan at Bootham Crescent has been hugely beneficial to his development as a young player.
And he feels he is now ready to become a permanent fixture in Grayson’s plans .
“I guess last season was a frustrating one for me,” Hayhurst told the Evening Post.
“I want to play here – I want to be a regular here.
“But sometimes you have got to go out and learn and try to come back a better player.
“Hopefully I will get my chance this year and keep it. I am enjoying being back – it’s good.
“The time I spent at York was good, although it was tough to go.
“But I felt I needed regular games and I think my time at York has helped me come back as a better player.
“I don’t regret going because I needed those regular games but I am glad to be back.
“Obviously Preston North End is my home club. It’s a great club – I grew up supporting the club with my nana.
“It’s been a dream to play for the club.
“The season before last was a dream come true for me.
“Seeing my mum and dad come to every game and making them smile – it was the best feeling I have ever had playing the game.
“It was great to score here at Deepdale
“But I want many more moments like that.
“And hopefully I can bring more joy for my mum and dad – and myself here at Preston.”
Hayhurst is guarded about his prospects of making the starting XI for this weekend.
But with a long season ahead, he knows there will be an opportunity to stake his claim.
“Obviously everybody wants to start in the first game of the season but I’m not just thinking about the first game,” he said.
“I want to try to do my best so that I am playing in every game. I know that won’t happen in some games but hopefully I can impress and push for a starting spot.
“I don’t think any footballer is happy sitting on the bench –you want to be playing so that’s what I am aiming to do.
“I am 20 now – I’m starting to feel a bit older.
“I’m still very young but what I’ve noticed is the seasons go quick.
“I’ve been a professional for three years and it feels like it’s gone very quickly.
“But I’ve loved every minute of it and hopefully I can do well this season.”
Hayhurst has joined the other young players at the club – Josh Brownhill, Alan Browne and Ben Davies – in staking a claim for a first-team berth with some good displays during pre-season.
And he knows competition for places is fierce within the squad. “I think everybody has done well over pre-season,” Hayhurst said.
“It’s going to be tough competing for positions and that’s good.
“We’ve got a big, strong squad and we’ll be pushing each other to get a position in the team, which will hopefully enable us to get good results.”