MICHAEL Duckworth admits he has surprised himself with his seamless transition into professional football.
Last summer the 22-year-old was plucked from non-league by former Hartlepool United boss Colin Cooper and has excelled since turning full-time.
While struggling Pools are rooted to the foot of Sky Bet League Two, Duckworth has impressed and was the stand-out performer in the cup defeat to Sheffield United.
It was always a dream of his to become a pro but the right-back admitted – at one stage – he thought the chance had slipped away while playing for Conference North side Bradford Park Avenue.
“I am surprised in some ways,” revealed modest Duckworth.
“I just try my best all the time, whether that is going forward or defending for the team or like the other night trying to score goals to get us back in the game!
“I haven’t scored many but I always try to do my best.
“There was a time when I thought the chance might have gone of becoming a professional.
“But the lads at Bradford Park Avenue told me to keep working hard, keep playing how I was and that I would get a breakthrough.
“Luckily I did.”
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Ex-Pools boss Cooper was the one to give Duckworth his breakthrough when he signed him from Bradford PA and the defender hasn’t looked back since.
Duckworth was one of the most consistent performers last term and the terrace favourite has improved as this season has gone on.
Unlike managerless Pools, who are bottom of the Football League with just eight points from their opening 11 matches.
He was the best player on the park against the Blades on Tuesday in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, capping his performance with his first ever professional goal.
Cue an elaborate acrobatic celebration.
Highly-rated Duckworth admits he doesn’t know what the future holds but Pools have a good track record of developing promising young footballers.
Jack Baldwin and Luke James have this year both moved on to League One side Peterborough United in big-money moves.
It would be no surprise at all if Posh came back in for a third Pools player - with Duckworth certainly one to watch.
For now though, the right-back is just concentrating on working hard for Pools in his second season as a pro, in the hope that the campaign will turn around fast.
Speaking before today’s trip to Exeter City, Duckworth added: “It is hard work.
“I have gone from training and playing once a week to then training every day as a professional footballer.
“It does take it out of you and that is probably why I have had a few injuries but I love being a professional.
“Training every day is great and I just want to keep working hard.”
* Visit www.hartlepoolmail.co.uk for team news and a full-time match report from St James’ Park as Pools make the long-trip down to Devon.
Follow @RichMennearJP on Twitter for live updates from the Sky Bet League Two match.