COLIN Cooper admits he is excited by the potential of “whirlwind” teenage midfielder Connor Smith.
The 17-year-old is among the latest generation coming through the Hartlepool United ranks and made his League debut in the final day 2-0 home defeat to Exeter City.
While the Sky Bet League Two season may have ended with a whimper for Pools his substitute appearance was at least one positive aspect.
The youth team player came on for Jonathan Franks with little over 10 minutes of the match left and looked bright and energetic when he slotted into midfield.
His place on the bench was a reward for his levels of consistency this season and his manager is excited by the youngster’s potential.
The 47-year-old told SportMail: “Connor is whirlwind and an exciting young player at the club.
“Because of injury and suspension I had two spare places on the bench for the Exeter City match and everybody that was on the bench that day were those available to me.
“I don’t feel as though it is right – and the younger players have to take this in the right manner – just to put kids on the bench for the sake of it.
“But Connor has shown a level of consistency and I said to John Hewitson [Pools director of youth] if he thought Connor deserves a little pat on the back for where he is going and how he has done.
“John agreed, so that is why I did it.”
Smith is a forward-thinking midfielder who has impressed in the youth team since stepping up from the Under 16s.
He’s been with the Clarence Road club since he was an Under 12 and has been included in the reserves on occasions.
Cooper has now called on him to maintain his rate of progress next season and to play more regular for Pools’ second string in order to further his development.
Cooper added: “Fair play to Connor.
“His challenge now is to do well again in the youth team next season and play more for the reserve/development side and see if in a year’s time he is good enough to bridge the gap.
“He is a very young man but is very exciting and has a lot of positive attributes, while there are of course also things that he has to work on.
“That is part of being a young footballer but he has made his League debut at 17 and you can’t argue with that.
“We have had two 17-year-olds playing in the team for us this season and whether we are good, bad or indifferent, that is still a good pat on the back for Hartlepool United.”
Cooper also revealed there was no chance of topscoring teenager Luke James coming on the pitch in the final league game of the season after an ankle injury.
But the Pools gaffer wanted the 19-year-old alongside him on the bench to thank him for his contribution to the cause this season, hence why he was named among the substitutes.
James bagged 16 goals for Pools last term but missed the Morecambe and Plymouth matches after picking up the injury at Burton Albion.
Nevertheless, his manager was keen to have him alongside him on the bench for the final match of the campaign.
Cooper said: “Luke could never have played in a million years but I said to him ‘I’d love to have you sat beside me rather than be sat in the stands’.
“He actually thought he was going to play but he couldn’t have.
“Luke was asking if I was serious and I said yes of course, I wanted him to be sat on the bench and acknowledged for the season he has had.”