Daniel Kearns has spoken of his pride at signing his first professional contract with West Ham United.

While the 17-year-old winger had been told he was being offered a one-year deal at the end of last season, Kearns had to wait until his return from his native Northern Ireland to put pen to paper.

Having kept tabs on the club's official website as fellow Academy graduates Matt Fry, Tony Brookes, Oliver Lee and Anthony Edgar formally signed their own contracts, Kearns was pleased to finally follow suit.

"I'm absolutely delighted," said Kearns, who moved to London from Belfast two years ago after being spotted by the Hammers. "All the other boys signed their contracts while I was still away so I'm pleased to have got it done and dusted.

"I actually found out just before the end of last season. I had a meeting with [Academy Director] Tony Carr and he was saying that he was going to offer me a professional contact. I saw on the website all the other boys were coming and signing theirs and I was back at home just eager to get it done. Now I've got it done I'm happy it's out of the way and I want to get cracking on with the season."

For Kearns, his new contract is a reward for the sacrifice of leaving home to follow his footballing dream at the age of 15. The youngster swapped his friends and family for the West Ham club house, where he was looked after by Bob and Val Rayson.

"It was hard. I came away from home when I was 15," explained Kearns. "Leaving my Mum and Dad wasn't particularly easy but once I got settled in, Bob and Val have been great with helping me in the digs, it was good from there on in. I'm enjoying it."

Kearns was quick to praise the impact made on his career by Academy Director Carr, who has overseen his development over the past two seasons.

"Everyone knows about Tony Carr," he said. "He's brilliant. He's been at the club for years and is great for the young players coming through because his drills and sessions are really good. He's helped us all come up."

Now fully settled in England, former Northern Ireland Under-17 star Kearns is looking to cement his place in the Hammers reserve team this year, while also pushing on at international level. He has not yet figured this summer because of a muscle injury but will soon be raring to go.

"The main aim for this season is to get another contract at the end of it. I'm hoping to get a regular spot in the reserves and maybe try to go out on loan during the season and from there, I hope to push on and get into the first team. You never know what's going to happen.

"Hopefully I'll be involved in the Under-19s this year and maybe I could push on into the Under-21 squad as well. We'll see what happens."