Having waited until he was almost 23 before getting a proper chance in the first team at Sunderland, academy graduate George Honeyman surely must have thought on more than one occasion in recent years that his opportunity to prove himself as a senior player just wasn’t going to come.
I guess that’s the beauty of playing in the Championship. Dropping a league certainly isn’t an easy prospect, but it allows the Sunderland manager to afford chances to young players who mightn't have gotten them when we were battling against relegation season after season in the Premier League. The fact is that staying in the top flight of English football is worth a lot of money to clubs like ours, and managers are less likely to take risks week to week, meaning the chances to give players like George Honeyman game time are few and far between.
That said, Honeyman has still had to earn his place. When a new manager arrives it gives every member of our squad the chance to start afresh, and whilst Duncan Watmore has missed out the entirety of pre-season through injury, the competition for the spot on the right hand side of Sunderland’s midfield has still been fierce.
Wahbi Khazri and Lynden Gooch - both internationally-capped footballers - are currently being kept out of Grayson’s side by the Prudhoe-born youngster, which is testament to his ability as a player. That, coupled with his undeniable work ethic and passion for the game, means Honeyman has been provided with the chances to shine so far this season, and boy has he taken them.
It’s not even the fact that he’s adding goals - though, of course, this has certainly brought his name to the fore. Honeyman is setting an example, both to first teamers and the other youngsters sat in our reserve side awaiting their opportunity to shine, with his tenacity and effort. He’s worked bloody hard to get this far and now that he’s got a first team starting berth within his grasp, he’s not going to let go of it quickly.
Last Friday night I watched on as our U23’s side took on a strong Tottenham Hotspur side, and I couldn’t help but notice the performances of one or two of the more ‘senior’ youth products, namely Ethan Robson and Tom Beadling.
Both men are out of contract next summer and really have to make an impression this year if they are to succeed here. Our drop into the Championship gives their hopes a boost, certainly, but their chances may still be slim between this season and they have to give their absolute best in front of Grayson if they are to even enter his thoughts.
But the success of a player like George Honeyman should give them hope. It should give hope to each and every one of our young players, that the days when opportunities to impress in the first team were scarce are now behind this football club. We are no longer ‘big-spenders’ - we have to become self-sustainable, and it means that you can certainly succeed here, provided you are patient, continue to work hard and above all else show your quality when it matters.