West Ham United Academy starlet Josh Cullen enjoyed an excellent 2013/14 campaign and is already reaping the rewards with a maiden first-team appearance at Stevenage on Saturday.
Last year's recipient of the Dylan Tombides Award for the Academy's player of the season, Cullen joined the fray with 83 minutes gone at the Lamex Stadium and was party to the late surge that saw the Hammers net twice in the dying minutes.
Far from being a bystander, the 18-year-old had a hand in the Hammers' opener, wrestling back possession and sliding in Guy Demel, whose cross picked out the stooping Matt Jarvis. All in all, a promising start for the youngster, who was understandably thrilled with his first taste of senior football at West Ham.
"That's what I've been looking to do ever since I was a little kid, to be in West Ham's first team," he told West Ham TV. "So it's great to get out there with good players, good professionals. It was lovely to be out there.
"I've travelled a few times and haven't made it onto the pitch, so it was nice to get on the pitch. It was lovely to be alongside players like that, who have that experience. Hopefully there are many more [appearances] to come, so that I can keep learning and keep progressing."
As for Saturday's showing, Cullen was buoyed by his contribution, confident that he had done himself justice and satisfied to have salvaged a draw.
He continued: "I thought I did alright, I didn't feel out of my comfort zone, so hopefully that's a good sign and now I've just got to keep pushing on in training and see if that opportunity can come along again.
"It's always nice not to lose games, especially when you're 2-0 down and we manage to get a draw out of the game and a bit of confidence. But it's more about staying clear of injuries and getting minutes under our belts. It's nice to get the draw but fitness is key."
Looking ahead, Cullen remains unsure of just how his pre-season is likely to pan out, but is intent on making an impression, whether with Nick Haycock's Development Squad or in and around the first-team squad.
"I've done one-and-a-half solid weeks with the U21s, so I feel good and ready to keep pushing on in pre-season," he confirmed. "Hopefully by the time the season comes around I'll be in top shape.
"Obviously I'd love to be involved with the first team but if I am involved with the 21s, I've just got to try and keep performing and hopefully I can push my way into being involved with the first team.
No matter how much time you get on the pitch you've got to impress, to try and look comfortable out there. Catch the manager's eye and if you can do that, hopefully more chances will come along. I've got to focus on my game, keep improving and see where it takes me."
Cullen could yet feature at Havant & Waterlooville on Tuesday evening, as Haycock's men embark on their second pre-season outing, following Saturday's 2-2 stalemate against Hornchurch at Little Heath.
One young Hammer, however, who will not be involved is George Moncur, following his loan move to SkyBet League One outfit Colchester United. The 20-year-old midfielder is currently set to remain with the U's until Thursday 7 August.
Tickets for Tuesday's 7.45pm kick-off at Havant & Waterlooville's West Leigh Park home are £12 for adults and £8 for concessions. There is also ample parking for travelling fans.
Dev Squad open with draw