Barnsley v Ipswich Town: Ryan Hedges ready to show true value to Reds
Not only did the 21-year-old spend seven years at Everton before joining fellow Premier League side Swansea City but he is a former pupil at Hawarden High School in Flintshire, North Wales, whose alumni include Gary Speed, Michael Owen and Huddersfield Town goalkeeper Danny Ward.
Now the Wales Under-21 star hopes to continue his development at Oakwell, and ultimately earn a route back to the top-flight, after joining the Reds on a two-and-half-year deal in January.
“I have been here a month now, played a bit for the Under-21s and made two appearances for the first team,” said Hedges.
“Every day I am learning more about what the manager wants from me, the roles and responsibilities of how he wants me to play.
“I think I am getting there, hopefully I will get my chance.
“When I signed, the manager looked at me as a project, and, hopefully, with a two-and-half-year contract I can prove my worth.
“You only have to look at John Stones and Alfie Mawson, playing in the Premier League, and everyone wants to play there.That’s the aim and, hopefully, it will be the next step for me one day.”
Hedges started the season on loan at Yeovil – after loan spells at Leyton Orient and Stevenage – but has had to be patient at Oakwell.
He has spent time playing in the Reds’ Under-21s to get used to playing as a winger in a 4-4-2 formation, as opposed to his regular role as a right-sided forward in a 4-3-3.
Hedges made his second appearance for the Reds as a substitute in Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat at QPR.
“I thought, personally, I did well and tried to get on the ball as much as possible (at QPR),” he said.
“Obviously, coming into the game at 2-0 as a substitute there is a little added pressure to try and do something.
“I thought I did well and, hopefully, can build upon it.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a massive difference between Barnsley and Swansea.
“Obviously, they are a Premier League team, but the set-up and attention to detail here is definitely up there.
“One of the main attractions of coming here was I didn’t really want to be playing Under-23s (at Swansea), I wanted to be playing Saturdays at 3pm. That’s always been my dream to be a professional footballer. To try and showcase that here is really good.
“The Championship is a massive step up (from Under-23s), but my three loans have really helped me with that. It’s a step up I think I can make.
“When I signed, I spoke to Hecky and he outlined the plan, how I needed to learn the responsibilities of a winger in a 4-4-2.
“Predominantly, I have played wide right in a 4-3-3, so there’s a bit more defending and learning that role.
“I think playing for the Under-21s, 90 minutes, has helped me to progress.
“If I can show my worth, hopefully I can play week-in, week-out. I feel like I am heading in the right direction.”
Barnsley are 12 points adrift of the play-offs after picking up just one win – a 3-1 success at Aston Villa – in their last eight outings.
Paul Heckingbottom has been forced to juggle his team after losing key players Sam Winnall, James Bree and Conor Hourihane in January.
Hedges and Alex Mowatt, from Leeds United, arrived on permanent deals, while several joined on loan.
“We have had a tough run with games, we had a good result at Villa and now need to try and get a little bit of momentum going forward,” said Hedges.
“We have Ipswich and Norwich (next week), so if we can get a run going, we can end the season on a high.
“Having only been here since January, overall I think it’s been a really good season for Barnsley,” he added.
“If I can try and cement a place for next season, that would me a massive positive for me. But I just have to try and take one game at a time, be involved again on Saturday, and try to get as many minutes between now and the end of the season. It’s a really good club, the boys have welcomed me with open arms.
“My family are from North Wales, so it’s not too far for them to travel over for games.”
His eagerness to learn has impressed Heckingbottom, who sent the youngster away to play in the reserves after Barnsley’s win at Villa Park and said Hedges has set an example for the rest of the Oakwell youngsters to follow.
“Players have to deserve it, the mentality of how do you deserve to get in the squad, the team,” said Heckingbottom.
“Ryan Hedges is a perfect example. He came in, we knew what we were signing, the qualities he had. We were at Villa 3-1 up and I was not going to put him on then. We took him out, had a chat, and said for him to get a game I needed to know 100 per cent what I was going to get – good and bad.
“So we put a training programme in place and told him what we wanted in and out of possession. He has been scoring and creating goals for the reserves. That’s how he has got himself in the team and that’s what you have to reward when people show that.”