FORMER Accrington Stanley winger Rory Prendergast is fulfilling a childhood dream by playing league football - but he knows he faces a make or break year.
The 26-year-old signed for Coca Cola League One side Blackpool last Friday for an undisclosed fee after a trial with the Seasiders.
And the Barnsley-born player, who was rejected by a number of league clubs in the early stages of his career, is still pinching himself that his dream is close to a reality.
"When last season finished, I went out running and one of my routes took me past Barnsley's ground. I used to stop and look at their stand and think how much I would be love to play there with the stand full," said the Yorkshireman.
"I always believed I was good enough but it was just a dream - and I can't believe it is so close to be coming true, that I will play at League One grounds and may play at Barnsley.
"It is a huge year for me - the biggest of my football career - but it was a fantastic opportunity, one which I couldn't turn down. It is a shame to leave Accrington but I am 26-years-old and I may never get another chance at league football. It was too good to turn down."
He admitted he felt his time had come to leave the Interlink after three years at the club.
He played more than 100 games for the Reds after signing from Bradford Park Avenue in 2002, helped the Reds win the UniBond Premier Division and spent two seasons in the Conference with them where he became a home crowd favourite and was a colourful character.
His goal celebrations were always enjoyable - whether up on the stands or running round the pitch - his pitch antics of falling under tackles were a source of fury for away fans but he could also produce a touch of genius which could change a game.
However, the last season proved hard for him when interest from Bristol Rovers led to the winger getting waylaid and some clashes with the management.
"It was hard at the back end of last season and I knew the time was right for me to move on and have a new challenge," said Prendergast.
"I knew things weren't going right after Bristol Rovers had come in for me and things weren't right between me and John (Coleman). I kind of knew I would go somewhere in the summer even though I had a year left on my contract at Accrington.
"I didn't know whether it would be Bristol Rovers, Exeter City or Aldershot, who I heard were interested, but I couldn't believe it when Blackpool asked me for a trial.
"I always thought I may get a chance at League Two level but League One was unbelievable for me. I have got a chance and it is up to me - it is a fantastic opportunity.
"Blackpool get 6,000 crowd at home every week and I am going from playing in front of 1,500 to 6,000. And Bristol City get crowds of 15,000. Imagine playing in front of that kind of crowd!
"I will miss Accrington especially the fans and the after-match banter. I loved that.
"But I hope I will be able to come to one or two games when Blackpool aren't playing."
And Prendergast looks back on his Stanley career with a lost of smiles. "My best memory was the FA Cup run in 2003. You don't get a chance to go to these grounds often and it was just great to go to Colchester and Bournemouth.
"At the time you think it might be the only chance you get to play at these grounds and I can't believe I could be doing this every week."
He rates his best Stanley goal as one from last season."My best goal came against Barnet when I volleyed home a Chris Butler cross which made it 2-0 and we went on to batter them," he said although one thing he does rue is his goal scoring ratio.
Despite a huge number of assists he scored six goals in the Reds first season in the Conference and five last year, although he was injured and missed some of the campaign.
"I made about 100 appearances for Stanley and the statistics read okay - the number of crosses, assists and games played but my one regret is not scoring more goals.
"I look back and think I should have got more. That's perhaps what I need to work on - quality in front of goal but I might get there.
"I think my best year playing-wise for Stanley was our first season in the Conference. I remember people were saying we would be relegated but I think personally that was my best season. I really enjoyed it."
His most memorable match was the FA Cup second round replay against Bournemouth at the Interlink. "That's the one that sticks in my mind as we won on penalties and it was on television and all my family and friends were watching."
And he is hoping his family and friends will be cheering him on as he tries to take Blackpool to the next level.
"I think League One, like the Conference, is a tough one to win promotion in as there are only two automatic places and then the play-offs.
"I would like to think we can have a good run in the FA Cup - perhaps even get a Premier League side - and then maybe make at least the play-offs in the league.
"For myself, I want to just get as many league games under my belt as possible and basically take it from there.
"I have got my chance back in league football and I have got to see what I can do."
He continued: "When I was a kid, I was at Barnsley and various other league clubs and didn't make it but now I feel I am at my peak and I have been given a chance.
"The good thing here at Blackpool is that there isn't a big squad and not many left-sided players so hopefully I will get my chance."
Prendergast contacted the Stanley management on Sunday night - to say thanks, good-bye and wish them well in trying to achieve their dreams of taking the Reds back into the Football League.
"I have left Accrington on a good note. I rung John (Coleman) and Jimmy (Bell) on Sunday to thank them for everything they have done. I had a good time at Accrington. It helped further my career and has given me the chance to move back into the league. I will keep looking for their results and keep in touch with a number of people."
And Prendergast already feels the Seaside is home despite just a month there.
"I have settled in at Blackpool. I can stay in a hotel sometimes during the week which saves the long journeys from Yorkshire. Ian Miller is a fantastic coach and the manager, Colin Hendry is a no-nonsense, down to earth bloke."
Seasiders boss Hendry knows it is all down to Prendergast as to what impact he will make at Blackpool.
He said: "All Rory does is cross the ball and that is what we want him to do. People have said to me he is the best crosser of the ball in the Conference. Can he make the step up? Well he is very hungry and he will want to prove that he can cut it at this level. He has got the ability and it is a great chance for him."
Stanley boss Coleman had started planning for the new season without the lively winger and now wishes him the best.
He said: "Rory is a very good player but the problem with him, by his own admission, is he can get sidetracked by other things. He lets other things worry him.
"He can be hard work but on his day he is as good as anybody, even in the Premiership, but it is not always his day and then he is not up to Northern Counties standard. Hopefully the change will do him good."