AFC Fylde’s James Hardy admits there is something about pulling on the national team shirt which makes him shine on the pitch.
So the 23-year-old was not too surprised as he was named the FA England C Player of the Year at The National Game Awards in association with Buildbase.
The attacking midfielder was the star for England as Paul Fairclough’s side drew 2-2 with their Welsh equivalent in March, in a team which showcases the best under-23 players outside the top four divisions in England.
And Hardy, who played for Manchester City as a youth player, believes the more technical style of football on display helped him stand out – earning him the award.
“It’s a huge honour to represent your country so to get a prize on top of that is really pleasing,” he said.
“(England C manager) Paul Fairclough has obviously played a big part in choosing this so to know I’ve done well makes me feel appreciated.
“The type of football we play with England C really suits me. It’s always on the floor, which helps me as a more technical player.
“Whenever I play for England it seems to bring the best out of me as a player. It gives me more freedom to play but, most of the time, I’m just trying to enjoy being there.
“When you’re playing in the National League it’s a lot of long ball and is way more physical. It was much closer to academy football.”
Hardy picked up his prize at the ceremony celebrating the best and brightest of Non-League football at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge.
He believes winning the award shows the development he has made since joining the club more than three years ago – with his step up earning him his original call-up from Fairclough.
Despite playing in a league where the style of play does not always suit his technical skillset, he admits it has been beneficial to his all-round game.
“I’ve been part of it for three and a half years and I’ve become a much better player,” Hardy added.
“It’s great there is an event like this where we are able to celebrate Non-League football after a long hard season where they want to mark what they have done.
“To be fair, it’s a huge honour to win this award and shows the faith Paul (Fairclough) has in me. It gives me a confidence boost and makes me feel recognised as a good player.”
Hardy was part of the Fylde side which made it to the Vanarama National League promotion final, but they lost out to Salford City.
It finished 3-0 at Wembley last weekend but Hardy returns to the capital today to play in the FA Trophy final against National League champions Leyton Orient.
Hardy is hoping to use the match as a perfect goodbye to the Fylde fans, and as a shop window with his contract set to expire.
“We had a big disappointment losing the play-off final against Salford,” he added. “The boys just want to go out and put on a show for our fans.
“It looks like it will be my last game for Fylde because I’m out of contract at the end of the season.
“There’s been no discussions so I want to go out with a win for the fans to thank them for everything they’ve done for me over the last three-and-a-half years.
“And, for me, it’s a chance to showcase what I’m about at the biggest stadium in the country. I can’t wait for it and hopefully I put in a good performance.”