The kids are ready to step up: Young North End lads set for a season of development

Preston North End's Jack Baxter (right) and Adam O'Reilly
Preston North End's Jack Baxter (right) and Adam O'Reilly

Alex Neil is looking forward to seeing the youngest players in the Preston North End squad develop in the season ahead.

Teenagers Adam O’Reilly, Jack Baxter and Jack Armer have all signed professional contracts in recent months.

With Ethan Walker from the age group below having made his North End debut last season, it is encouraging to see players progressing from the academy.

PNE manager Neil told the Lancashire Post: “You’ve got four lads there who we have promoted so to speak.

“They have shown enough to suggest that there is certainly something there.

“As I’ve said to them the easy part is done, it is now about stepping-up with the big lads and showing us what they can do.”

O’Reilly and Walker both made their first-team debuts as substitutes in December’s 1-1 draw with Aston Villa at Deepdale.

Aged 16, Walker became the youngest player to appear in a league game for Preston.

Baxter was an unused sub a handful of times over the course of the season, while Armer trained regularly with the first-team squad.

It might be that they get the chance to go out on loan to aid their development during the 2019/20 campaign.

Midfielder O’Reilly had a short spell at Hyde United last season.

Neil said: “As we haven’t got an Under-23s here, the loan system becomes really important unless, like Josh Earl did in his first year, they can force their way in.

“If they can’t do that we will make sure there is enough game time for them across the season.

“If we can get them out to play games at a good level, like the club did with Ben Davies before I came here, we will do that.

“You look at Ben and see how the loan system helped him to get used to playing first-team football and playing for a living.”

O’Reilly, Baxter, Armer and Walker were regulars in the youth team last season.

While O’Reilly hails from the Republic of Ireland – he played for the same junior team as Alan Browne did – the other three are local boys.

But often they would be called up to train with Neil’s senior squad at Springfields.

“Last season they spent probably half their time with the first-team squad and half with the academy,” said Neil.

“So they well exposed to the work we do and standards we expect.

“There have certainly been improvements in all four.

“When you feel they have exceeded a level you try and push them on as quickly as we can, whatever their age.

“Age doesn’t matter, it is about the level of their playing ability and level of knowledge they have.”