Derby County Academy Manager Matt Hale says there have been some 'really enjoyable bits' to take away from his first 12 months on the job in Derbyshire.

Hale linked up with the Rams in June 2023 after a period of almost 10 years within the youth set-up at Southampton, where he latterly served as their Academy Director.

And despite it still being relatively new in Derby compared to his near decade on the south coast, Hale has been happy with what he has seen from the club's youth set-up in such a short period of time.

"The professional phase has seen some really good performances and exciting individuals," he told RamsTV.

"We've had a little bit of first-team exposure and some really good loans, so from the older age groups it has been really good to see. The younger age groups are still in the building and playing throughout the summer. They've all been abroad at some point too which has been a new experience for them.

"There have been some really enjoyable bits that I've seen over the last 12 months."

One of the standout stories from the Academy this year has undoubtedly been Dajaune Brown, who took his goalscoring form from the Under-18s and Under-21s to men's football when he joined National League side Gateshead on loan for the second half of the season in January,

And Hale was quick to praise the development of Brown along with how the Academy plans to carry on using the loan market moving forward.

"Dajaune has had lots of support from various members of staff," he said.

"He's scored a few goals, played a lot of games in the National League and scored some really important goals including at Wembley in the FA Trophy Final, which is a real incredible outcome for him in his first loan.

"What we've done over the last few months is utilise the loan market, particularly for Daj, in a way we think it can be really helpful.

"Some of our players won't need a loan and will go straight into the first-team squad and make an impact, hopefully, whereas others might need a different experience if the right opportunity and club comes up.

"It's definitely our plan to utilise the loan market but it has to be the right one, the right time, the right sort of style. Full-time loans also become important now that we're in the Championship."

Alongside Brown, Cruz Allen, Jack Thompson and Keilen Robinson all signed their first professional contracts over the course of 2023/24 season, and Hale is hopeful that they may not be the last.

"We've got a few of the Under-18s that have been offered professional deals that they will sign over the summer," he explained.

"We've earmarked one or two of our Under-16s and Under-17s that finished last season as 'high potential' and lads we want to reward and give recognition to. We want give them the time and confidence that this football club believes in them.

"Hopefully you'll see some more over the summer earn those professional contracts and come back fighting for a chance with the Under-21s or, who knows, even with the first-team squad."