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First Team News

Hunts On Historic Milestone

22 January 2021

First Team News

Hunts On Historic Milestone

22 January 2021

Wednesday evening marked a special occasion for the club's longest serving current player, as Paul Huntington made his 300th appearance for Preston North End.

The whole-hearted defender has become a real fan favourite since signing for the club in 2012, and became the 26th player to reach that milestone for the club, following in the footsteps of Paul Gallagher who hit 300 in 2020.

The 33-year-old, who recently signed a contract extension which will take his stay at the club to ten years, has endured a range of emotions during his time at the club which has seen him help take the club from League One to an established Championship team pushing at the right end of the table each season since promotion in 2015.

Speaking to iFollow PNE after reaching the milestone, Hunts reflected on the feeling of joining the '300 club' and felt the win over Birmingham City was the perfect way to mark the occasion.

"It's been a pleasure for me personally being here so long and playing that many games but the most important thing the other night, to make it special for me, was to get the win for the team, for the club and we managed to do that so that was the overriding feeling after the game.

"It was a good place to be in the changing room after, with the crazy conditions that got worse towards the end of the game, but it was a good feeling and we want that to continue.

"For a defender to get a clean sheet as well it's the perfect result 1-0, we could have made it more comfortable but Scotty got the all important goal and it was a good performance, good determination, good togetherness and team spirit and it was good to see and be a part of."

It hasn't always been easy for affectionally nicknamed 'Cumbrian Cannavaro', in the summer of 2014 his future at the club was somewhat uncertain, but his determined character and hard work saw him fight his way back in to the team a few months in to the season and he didn't look back.

From not featuring in the early stages of the season, Hunts became a key figure in the club's push for promotion and went on to score in the Play-Off final win at Wembley to help seal promotion before being named the club's Player of the Year the following day.

It was a Tuesday night in Gilllingham in October 2014 which saw his first league start of the 2014/15 campaign, a game which would become a turning point for the centre back who went on to make a further 34 league appearances that season, including the three Play-Off games, culminating with that memorable day at Wembley.

On that game and the months leading up to it, Paul revealed: "It was a bit of a turning point really because that season I hadn't really been featuring. I think Tom Clarke was injured or Bailey Wright was ill and it was me and Jack King at the back that night.

"It just shows for the lads that aren't in the team that you've always got to be ready, keep yourself prepared and do the right things away from the training ground, live right and keeping your fitness levels up.

"I remember doing a lot of work one on one with Tom Little at that stage when I wasn't featuring much apart from in the cup competitions. I used it as an opportunity to not only keep my fitness up but to improve a few things.

"It was tough at the time and I felt that maybe that summer before, from the feedback I got, that the staff maybe thought that my future might be elsewhere but I went away and worked really hard that summer, came back probably the fittest I had felt.

"I didn't get in the side until around October so I missed the first two months of league games, having played a bit part the season before and I did have that at other clubs but this was a place I really wanted to be.

"I wanted to knuckle down and prove them wrong and I think you have got to be a bit like that. You talk about being adaptable but I think you've got to have that bit of grit and determination as well and feeling inside yourself that you are going to prove people wrong.

"I remember Snods [Glynn Snodin] after we got promoted and having a chat with him about it. The summer before he was one who was ringing me asking if I wanted to go here or there, it wasn't down to him, he was just passing on the message, but I would be lying if I didn't say it hurt me. I thought I would come back and do something about it and thankfully that season from then on we went on a great run and we didn't look back."

The win at Wembley is no doubt a key highlight of his time at the club so far, but he admits there is one other achievement that tops that for him.

"There have been a lot of memorable moments, when people say best moment you would go back to the Play-Off final, but I would probably say slightly above it would be the last six seasons in the Championship, I think that's a better achievement.

"Not only staying in the division, usually we have been in the top half or pushing for the Play-Offs and that's always the next thing you are looking for. I know we are as a football club and it's the same for me on a personal level. I could probably pick out a couple of games but I think the last five and half to six years in the Championship is up there.

"Trying to improve on an individual level and as a team, trying to finish a high as possible and get in to those Play-Off spots which we are desperate to do. I think we've got a really good Championship side and one that has certainly got a lot of potential going forward."

With 300 games under his belt for Preston North End, and over 450 in his professional career to date, Hunts has plenty of experience in the game but he knows that to continue to progress, you have to be able to adapt and learn, something he feels he has done under the three managers he has worked with at Deepdale, and will continue to do.

"I think you've got to be able to adapt and try and do what your manager is wanting for the benefit of the team, I've always been of that mindset, it's team over self. While it's great getting to this milestone games wise, it's more important to me that the team is doing well and we win games and performances are good.

"When it hasn't gone well, reflect and think what you can do better because I'm the first one to look at myself, I know when I've not hit the levels that I should. Especially as I get older and I think just being coachable and adaptable is a good quality to have. Not only in football but in life in general.

"It's been three different styles [of manager], it's not really that many when you look at it against a lot of other clubs over that time, coming up to nine years in the summer, but I've enjoyed working with all of those and I feel as though there is still more to come.

"I'm really pleased to have got to that milestone and I'm now looking ahead to get hopefully many more."

Watch the full interview with Hunts as he reflects on reaching the milestone and looks ahead to this weekend's game against Reading.

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