FEATURE: Getting to know... Cobblers' academy graduate Sean Whaler
Sean Whaler has spoken of how the welcoming atmosphere within the first-team squad at Sixfields helped him on the way to earning his first professional contract.
The 17-year-old was handed a two-year deal by boss Dean Austin last week, having impressed during training with the first team.
The Town manager is a keen advocate of giving youth a chance, and while as assistant to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and then as caretaker boss, he would use the pick of the under-18s team to boost numbers in training - and that meant Whaler would get the call to join in.
So how was it on that first day he took to the field with the Cobblers first team?
“It was nerve-wracking, I didn’t really know what to expect,” said a smiling Whaler.
“When I first went in there the tempo was a lot quicker, but you just have to get used to it.
“It took a few training sessions for me to feel at home, and you end up doing things you don’t expect yourself to do.
“If you are training with the youth team, you are comfortable and you play like yourself, but when you go in with the first team, you think a lot more.
“You are always concentrating, and you think a lot more about your first touch, a lot more about your first pass, but once you settle down you start playing your normal football.”
So did the senior players make him feel welcome?
“Massively,” said Whaler, a former pupil at Abington Vale Primary School, and Soccer Stars player.
“David Buchanan and Ash Taylor are both very good with us, and they talk to us.
“Even before training, they will never leave us out, they want us to join in, and they have helped massively with our confidence levels.
“Joe Bunney is another one, he talks to us a lot as well.
“It is very welcoming, and I think they have had a massive influence on how I have played as well.
“When I have been training with them, if you make a mistake they will always pick you back up again and give you confidence.”
And has he got used to the fact he is now a full-time professional?
“It is surreal. In my first year, I didn’t really get a look in with the first team at training,” said Whaler. “So to then end up training every day with the first team, and travelling to matches with them, I never dreamed of that.
“Well, I did dream of it, I just never thought it would actually happen!”
Northampton born and bred, is Whaler from a footballing family?
The answer is yes, and no...
“Nobody before me in my family really played football, and my mum and dad didn’t really expect me to start enjoying my football,” said Whaler.
“But my younger brother, Josh, he is also in the academy now and I think he wanted to follow in my footsteps.
“He is 14, and he has just been given a two-year contract at the club as well, until he is 16, so he is happy about that.”
And he added: “I started playing football before I could even walk! I was always kicking things, whether it was a football or not!
“I joined the club at under-nines, and played in grassroots before that for two years with Soccer Stars.
“Then, ever since the under nines I have been in the Cobblers academy.”
Whaler has yet to make first-team debut for Town, but he was in the first-team squad for the 3-2 win at Bury last month - ‘a proud moment’ - and he admits it will be a dream to wear the claret and white in a senior match.
“It is your dream, isn’t it? To play for for your hometown club,” he said.
“I have been a supporter here since I was young as well, and it would be good.”
When he does get to step out on to the pitch, what sort of player can the Cobblers fans expect to see?
“We are trying to find my best position, but over my two years with the youth team, I started off playing right-back,” he revealed.
“I then also started playing right wing and left wing, and then towards the end of the Under-18s I was playing as a number 10, in a more attacking role.
“I like to play more as an attacker because I feel I can bring a lot to the team and create opportunities.
“Having said that, I like to play right-back as well because I feel I can see the whole picture.”
As well as being part of the Town academy, Whaler was also in the Northampton School for Boys team that won the National Schools title four years ago, and were losing finalists 12 months later.
That team also included former Cobblers academy pair Fraser Hornby and Glenn Middleton.
They are now at Everton and Rangers respectively, and Whaler said: “They have done really well, and I always knew they would because they are very good players.”
Well, now Whaler is going to get the opportunity to show just how good he is, and he is aiming to hit the ground running when pre-season starts at the end of June.
“I will have a bit of a break, but I know that pre-season is a massive chance to impress,” he said.
“Everybody has a clean slate, and that is a chance for me to make my mark.”