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Danny Ballard has signed his first professional contract, putting pen to paper with Arsenal after fighting his way back into the Hale End Academy.
The 18-year-old, who hails from Northern Ireland, was released as a schoolboy in 2016 and then broke his ankle while on trial with Southampton. Rejoining his local club, Stevenage, to regain fitness, Arsenal came back for him when he looked poised to sign scholarship terms.
Since then, he has progressed quickly. He featured for both the u18s and u23s last season, impressing with his no-nonsense approach to defending. The centreback also captained Arsenal’s youth team in this season’s FA Youth Cup defeat at the hands of Chelsea.
“It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster at Arsenal,” Ballard told Arsenal.com before the final. “Even looking back to when I got my scholarship I never thought I’d be in this position.
“At the start of the season, I don’t even think that as a team we thought we’d be here – we lost our first game of the season 4-1 to Fulham. We’ve all worked so hard, especially myself, and we’re all really pleased to be in the final.
“I think it boils down to hard work and having a manager that trusts you and rewards dedication. Having a manager who gives you opportunities off that and I think I’ve taken my opportunities pretty well. It’s all starting to pay off.”
An Arsenal statement said, “We would like to congratulate Daniel on his new contract and wish him well as he continues his development at the club.”