A ‘wake-up call’ for U’s keeper Barnes

Dillon Barnes, praised by his captain Luke Prosser. Picture: STEVE WALLER

Dillon Barnes, praised by his captain Luke Prosser. Picture: STEVE WALLER - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Dillon Barnes insists that dropping into non-league, for two spells last season, was just the “wake-up call” that he needed ahead of what is now the biggest season of his career.

Dillon Barnes, on his Football League debut against Swindon on the penultimate weekend of last seaso

Dillon Barnes, on his Football League debut against Swindon on the penultimate weekend of last season. Picture: STEVE WALLER - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Barnes is fast establishing himself as Colchester United’s new No. 1 keeper, following former stalwart Sam Walker’s move to Reading over the summer

The imposing Walker, a class act at this level, rattled up 200 league appearances for the U’s, and so the Essex club were always going to miss a player of his experience, especially as the last line of defence.

Barnes, though, has made a good start to life as the No. 1, keeping clean-sheets in the U’s first two league matches of the season, a 0-0 draw at Notts County on the opening day, followed by a 2-0 home win over Port Vale last weekend.

In all, Barnes has made just four league appearances for the U’s to date (two at the end of last season), but the 22-year-old former Fulham trainee been able to draw on the experience of playing on loan at Welling United and Hemel Hempstead Town last term.

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Barnes made 14 league appearances for Welling, and three later in the season for Hemel Hempstead, all in National League South, a couple of divisions below the League Two U’s.

“Playing Under-23s football is good, but you can only learn so much from that,” said Barnes, following today’s training session at Florence Park, Tiptree.

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Barnes continued: “Going to Welling and Hemel Hampstead was an eye-opener for me, and I would recommend it to any young keeper.

“It was certainly a wake-up call for me, playing proper men’s football – playing in the real world!

“You keep getting nudged and punched, and there’s often an elbow in the way when you go out to deal with corners, or you are being grabbed to stop you.

“But I think that experience has put me in good stead.

“In fact, if I didn’t go out on those loans last season, then I wouldn’t be the keeper that I am today,” added Barnes

The U’s recruited young keepers Ethan Ross and Bailey Vose over the summer, while goalkeeping coach Rene Gilmartin remains another option.

But Barnes is in the box seat at the moment, and he is keen to hold onto that position.

“I feel that I’ve settled in well, and the club has recruited well with a few new players over the summer,” continued Barnes.

“It couldn’t have gone any better for me, really, with those two clean-sheets in the first two matches. The 0-0 at Notts County was a good result, against tough opponents, and the boys did well in the 2-0 win over Port Vale.

“I’ve had to wait a long time to get my chance, but I’ve been learning every day and working very hard.

“Obviously it was always difficult to get games, with Sam Walker at the club playing so well. I had to be patient, because Sam is a top, top keeper, and I learnt so much from him, on and off the pitch. He was a good role model for me.

“He got himself a good move this summer, and I wish him all the best at Reading. Fair play to him, but I now have this opportunity and I want to make sure that I take it.”

In response to the question – was he told that he would be the first-choice keeper for the start of this season – Barnes replied: “Yes and no, really.

“I was told that I would get my chance, and that I would be given the opportunity, but it’s up to me, and me alone, to take it. I cannot afford to relax. I’ve got to be on the ball, every minute of the day, working hard every single day.

“There’s no time for slacking, I know that.”

Tuesday night was a difficult one for the U’s, and for Barnes in particular, as John McGreal’s men bowed out of the EFL Cup 6-5 on penalties after a 2-2 draw at Cheltenham. Barnes conceded a penalty for the Robins’ second goal, before quickfire goals from Sammie Szmodics and Luke Norris took the first round tie to penalties.

“I played in a penalty shoot-out against Charlton in the Checkatrade Trophy last season, but this was only my second experience of a penalty shout-out,” said Barnes.

“I thought the boys did well to come back 2-0 down. They fought to the end. There’s only so much you can do as a keeper, in a penalty shoot-out, and they took their penalties well.

“Now it’s off to Mansfield and another difficult game,” added Barnes.

Both the U’s and the Stags are currently sitting in the play-off zone with four points from their first two games.

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