Alan Browne has been at Deepdale over four years now and he is closing in on 150 appearances for the club since his arrival from Cork in January 2014.
It is fair to say that he has improved with every single season he has had with the Lilywhites and this one is no exception, winning the man of the match award in the last home game and becoming one of the first names on manager Alex Neil’s team sheet.
But of late that improvement curve has become even steeper. Arguably he put in his best performance of those near century and a half of games in the thumping win at Nottingham Forest at the end of January and followed that up with the aforementioned George Banks Jewellers prize winning effort against Hull City.
So what has changed for the 22-year-old? We sat down with him at Springfields this week to assess his season so far.
“I don’t think it has just happened, I think it is a combination of things really,” he said of his evolution as a player. “I always want to be honest and work hard so that has always been there. I think the gaffer coming in has really helped me. He has really pinpointed what I need to work on and improve on in those areas.
“He is really getting the best out of me and playing in the more advanced role, I didn’t really expect it to work out as well as it has done but he has obviously seen something there and he has stuck with it.
“I am just doing my best to repay him now and I think it has surprised a few people how it has managed to work. I am just happy to be given an opportunity to play as much as I have done.
“We thought [Simon] Grayson had sussed it to with the box-to-box role, but this year I have kicked on in the more advanced role. Which is best? I could end up at right back, who knows!
“I am just enjoying the No.10 role. I am a lot more confident. Whatever the reason, I don’t know, but I have got more confidence at the moment than at the start of the season.
“I think I have managed to believe in myself a bit more and push myself through and get the best out of me, because I knew I needed to kick on, to not just be around the team, but to cement my place in the team. That’s what I have looked to have done. I have played probably more games than I have in previous years and a better run of games.
“It is just good for me to keep on playing; you need that as a player, a good run of games to get the best out of you. The gaffer has done that with me and I have managed to improve.”
One of the differences between the current and previous manager has been Alex Neil’s public belief that his team can and should be fighting for promotion. The previous manager was understated in his approach to that, whereas his successor is much more bullish when it comes to aspirations for the Premier League and the Irish international midfielder says this belief is something that oozes through the squad.
“All credit to Simon, he got us going to where we are now,” continued the No.8. “He put a really good team together with the players he brought in fairly cheaply and they have turned out to be unbelievable.
“It was the attitude of the team that was brilliant when he was here and he based his selection of the team on that and who to bring in, so he did a fantastic job.
“This gaffer’s come in and given us the confidence we needed and his belief in us.
“He basically told us that we are good enough and I don’t think we have been told that before.
“He told us that we could really push on to the next level and give teams at the top end of the table a real run for their money.
“At the start of the season and in the pre-season he had it really drilled into us what he wanted us to do and we are a good bunch here, so we were obviously going to do what he has asked of us. It has managed to work out exceptionally and I think before we had that bad spell with injuries, we were doing really well and it was all coming together quite nicely; but that set us back a bit.
“We have managed to stay around the Play-Offs and we are all confident that we can push on and really compete for a Play-Off place now.
“That is all down to the gaffer really. He has got a really good eye for what he wants and he puts it into practice on the training pitch. It is up to the boys to take that into a matchday. There is really high confidence in the group to push onto the next level.
“We are always confident that we can make games difficult for teams. The way we play is something that teams don’t like playing against because we press so high up the pitch, they don’t get any time on the ball or to get their head up and pick a pass.
“Watching [Saturday’s opponents] Wolves over the season, that is what they like to do.
“They like to get it and play and make key passes, especially their great players. But if you get in anyone’s face they are not going to be able to play that pass. If you can nick it high up the pitch you can then set up a counter attack. We did really well away at their place, I know the scoreline might have said differently, but we did really well to get back in the game, obviously the sending off didn’t help, but I think that if I had not got sent off, then we would have had a chance to nick one towards the end.
“We put it up to them and they won’t have got a game like that many times this season and today it will be the same again, as we do to every other team.
“Our home form has not been as good this year, but we have got some really influential players back and hopefully that will make all the difference for us to go on a run and see where we end up this season.”
You can read plenty more from Alan, along with features and interviews with Declan Rudd, Tom Barkhuizen, Billy Bodin and Callum Robinson, plus all the usual features and articles in our 100 page edition of The One And Only this weekend.
The official matchday programme will be on sale from the Sir Tom Finney ticket office from Friday afternoon and then from inside and outside the stadium on matchday for just £3, don’t miss out!