'It's been really tough for him' - Dave Challinor discusses Hartlepool United youngster Joe Grey after the former Newcastle United, Middlesbrough and Sunderland target returned from injury this season
It’s been a long twelve months for Hartlepool United youngster Joe Grey.
Having signed his first professional deal with Pools in August last year, Grey was projected for big things at Victoria Park after a fine spell in the club’s scholarship programme.
Pools had to fend off rumoured interest from North East rivals Newcastle United, Middlesbrough and Sunderland to land the teenager’s signature which was seen as a coup for Dave Challinor’s side.
The young striker was nurtured into the Pools first team during their National League promotion winning campaign, making his debut in the 4-0 over Maidenhead United 12 months ago.
But Grey would make just 13 appearances last season after suffering a complicated stress issue with his spine that would see him sidelined for almost seven months. It was a cruel blow for such a highly rated youngster.
And while, thankfully, Grey is back among the Pools squad this season, it has meant Challinor has had to be particularly cautious with the 18-year-old’s return to the first team picture.
But the Pools boss has admitted he has been impressed with Grey’s work ethic during his injury layoff as he looks to force his way back into Challinor’s thinking.
“He's used his time out effectively and now he's back to being involved and we have to build his tolerance and his minutes up while still working on his physical development,” Challinor told The Mail.
“It's been really tough for him being out for a long time.
“What you've got to do, and young players won't see it in this way, but when you're out for six to nine months, you've got to use that time effectively.
“Young players won't see it as effective because they're not playing or even training but their body is still developing and growing.
“We want to make him physically bigger because that ability to be physically robust and play the amount of games you need through the season with the wear and tear of somebody who is still growing is more important than an experienced pro who already has that tolerance to training every day and playing every weekend.
“He'll become a different athlete over the next few years so it's important we continue to build on that. He'll get those rewards but still be involved on a Saturday and hopefully scoring goals.”
Grey has featured five times for Pools this season including last week’s back-to-back wins over Bradford City and Harrogate Town.
While Grey might not be in a position to oust the in-form Mark Cullen from the starting XI at this moment in time, his work ethic and desire has been something which has rubbed off on both Challinor and the Pools supporters since his comeback.
“He's really motivated,” said Challinor.
“He goes about his business and has earned the respect of the senior players in the dressing room. He trains as he plays, he's effervescent, he's energetic, he's bright, he'll chase lost causes and just keep going.
"If you're watching training sessions and if there's one player who gives off a vibe that they just love playing football, that's him. That shows when he plays and it's something that our supporters want to see and he epitomises that which gives him a good chance of having a successful career.”