Paul Dummett used to resemble a competition winner whenever summoned to train with the first team.
As if his prize was to spend a day with his Newcastle United heroes. A chance to pretend he was a big star before being chucked back into the real world.
He would speak when spoken to and not dare look anyone in the eye. It would be an awkward balance of trying to impresses and at the same time stay ignored in the background.
This was a year ago. A lot has happened since then to that shy, quiet lad.
The problem used to be that when Dummett was called up by Alan Pardew to train with the senior team, it was with players who he looked up as almost his idols, not as team-mates. Certainly not equals.
It doesn’t matter how good you are, and this lad has a huge amount of talent, when you are too shy to ask even for a pass then it’s hard to force your way into the manager’s thoughts.
Dummett admitted to The Journal that even now he tends to stand at the back, keeping his head down and happy to let the most established men rule the dressing room.
Then he gets out on the pitch.
Dummett has arguably been Newcastle’s best player in pre-season so far, certainly the most improved.
During a training match I watched, he constantly demanded the ball, always looked for a pass. His voice could be heard as clear as anyone’s.
At 21, this is his time to really push to establish himself as a player at St James’ Park. On the evidence shown so far this summer, the left-back is not about to let this opportunity pass him by.
Dummett said: “Last year, whenever I got the chance to play with the first-team, I was a lot more nervous. Now I feel better about knocking the ball about with the other lads.
“I do feel confident and a lot of that has come from what the manager has said to me. I’m more confident about showing and asking for the ball in training than I was before
“I’m a Newcastle fan so when I go to the games on a Saturday I’m there as a fan. So it’s a real privilege for me to play with these guys because I look up to them all.
“So for me to find the confidence to make me think I’m good enough to play with them has been the hardest part. That’s a problem for a lot of young lads.
“You can have all the ability in the world, but you need find the confidence to show that out on the pitch. If you don’t feel so good inside, then it’s a lot harder to go out there, get on the ball and prove everyone you are good enough.”
Pardew thinks the kid is good enough. He has spoken about Dummett more than any other player this close season and it’s all been good.
Dummett said: “It’s been great to hear what the manager has been saying about me. It’s really encouraging. I just wanted to prove myself to him that I was good enough to play in the pre-season games and hopefully I’ve impressed him.” His season-long loan at St Mirren, where he won the League Cup, was the best thing to happen to Dummett so far in his career. He left for the SPL club a boy and came back a man.
Dummett said: “I have definitely improved as a player. Playing games for St Mirren every week was fantastic for me. They also played the right sort of football, which was great.
“I learned a lot about playing the ball in tight situations – something we did a lot of in training – so it was a fantastic move.
“It was a crucial time. I have come back to Newcastle better, quicker and stronger, and that comes from playing against senior players all the time.”
Dummett is a local lad and a supporter. There have been too few of his kind in recent years.
Newcastle fans like seeing a Geordie in the team. It’s a connection between the stands and pitch, something that is all too rare these days at any Premier League club.
Dummett said: “My hero was Alan Shearer. Obviously. But when I became a defender it changed to Steven Taylor – and now I’m training with him every day.
“Steven is another local boy so I can relate to what he’s done and use that to inspire me to make it at Newcastle.
“I actually started out as a striker. I would bag a load of goals every week, honest. Then moved to midfield, left wing, centre-back and then left-back. I’ll end up as the goalie!”
So what next? Dummett has signed a new deal, but thought he would spend at least six more months away from Tyneside. However, the past three weeks have changed everything.
Not only is he more comfortable in these surroundings, he has filled out and looks every inch a Premier League player.
Dummett said: “The plan was to probably go out on loan. I’ll have to see what happens over the next few weeks and I’ll speak to the manager to see what his thoughts are. He’s the boss so he’ll decide my future.
“The manager has been good to us. He talks to me a lot, telling me how things are, and I just want to prove to him I’m good enough to stay here.”
So far, he’s done a brilliant job.