Alex Neil says he sees a bright future for some of Preston North End’s youngest players even if game-time will be limited for them in pre-season.
Jack Baxter, Adam O’Reilly, Connor Simpson and Michael Howard are all on the fringes of the first-team squad.
The four were on the bench as cover in the friendly game at Bamber Bridge.
Baxter and O’Reilly (right) had the same role against AFC Fylde and both are with the squad at Fota Island this week.
For Cork boy O’Reilly, that marked a return home.
Simpson and Howard have stayed at home with the youth team but will link back up with Neil’s squad on their return from Ireland.
Neil told the Post: “We have had Jack, Adam and Connor training with us for the past six months, less so Michael because he went on loan to Cork earlier in the year.
“They will continue to train with the first team this season so they can get the level and see where they are at.
“Ideally we would like them to get game minutes but it is difficult because we have 23 full-time pros who I am dotting in and out of two XIs.
“It is the first-team lads who take priority at the moment.
“Jack and Adam are still at an age when they can play for the 18s, my thought, however, is that they have moved beyond that level.”
Baxter and O’Reilly are both second-year scholars and were in the first-team squad at times last term, with O’Reilly making the bench for the 1-1 draw with Wolves.
Simpson, 18, was a £50,000 buy from Hartlepool United in January, while Howard came through the PNE youth ranks and turned pro in February before going to Cork on loan.
Southport-born Howard returned from that loan in time for pre-season at PNE.
Said Neil: “Michael didn’t play at Cork as much as he would have liked.
“What he did experience, though, was real-life football and what it takes to be a professional footballer.”