Goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell made his Northern Ireland debut on Tuesday night, and he owes a debt of gratitude to the non-league strikers that roughed him up last autumn.
Six months after completing a four-game loan spell with National League North side York, Leeds’ Peacock-Farrell came on against World Cup-bound Panama for his senior international bow.
The 21-year-old, who ended the campaign as the Whites’ number one, admitted his season began in “pretty bleak” fashion, but the opportunity to spend time with the Minstermen in October and November changed everything.
“I enjoyed that thoroughly,” he explained.
“It was certainly an eye-opener and it probably helped me prepare for what was to come later on in the season.
“It’s completely different to playing in the (under-)23s. It was good to just get battered about, left exposed.
“You’re coming for crosses and you’re just getting clattered. To deal with that, you almost realise this can prepare you for any other situation.
“There were a few moments where I would get kneed in the head in a one-on-one or completely wiped out on a cross, a boot to the chest and there was not even a yellow card.
“It was baffling but it’s what it is at that level, a lot more goes. You’ve got to get on with it and toughen up.”
Having been physically prepared for senior football, Peacock-Farrell had to show he could cope mentally too when he made just his second ever Leeds appearance against eventual champions Wolves on TV at Elland Road in March.
Though the Whites lost 3-0, Peacock-Farrell earned rave reviews and would go on to keep his spot for the remaining 10 fixtures of the campaign.
“There’s a huge pressure and expectation from the fans – it’s a massive club, huge history,” the young Northern Irish stopper admitted.
“I kind of enjoy that kind of pressure that comes with the shirt, it can make you perform.
“Getting that first game against Wolves, top of the league, on TV…you get thrown in at the deep end and you’ve got to swim sometimes.”
In a parallel universe, Peacock-Farrell might not be in Central America but back home in the north-east of England preparing for university exams like his friends.
A left winger converted to a keeper when aged 12 at Middlesbrough, he was let go at 16 because, at 5ft 9in, he was deemed “too small”.
Peacock-Farrell contemplated life away from the sport, and a career in corporate law or as an accountant, until Leeds picked him up and he grew to his current height of 6ft 4in.
“It was the worst six months to a year – the uncertainty of not knowing if you’re going to be a footballer or not,” the goalkeeper added.
“That’s at the time when you go into full-time football. Actually planning other avenues of education and things like that, it was a strange one to process as such but I had to have a back-up ready.
“I applied for my sixth form at school and was ready to go in at the start of September but thankfully I got my deal at Leeds done.
“All my mates are still at uni, and the workload they do…I’m certainly in a much better position!”
- Press Association