It's been a successful year for Carlisle United's academy - who have provided five first-year professionals for Paul Simpson's squad.

Max Kilsby was the latest youngster to be handed a contract, following in the footsteps. of Sam Fishburn, Jack Ellis and goalkeeping duo Gabriel Breeze and Scott Simons.

And while the likes of Ellis and Fishburn have already tasted senior football, the focus for the quintet will be on hitting the ground running in pre-season.

For, as the old cliche goes, earning a first professional contract is just the start.

So too will it be a crucial summer for some of the club's older academy graduates.

Both Lewis Bell and Taylor Charters spent time away from the club on loan last season - with varying experiences - and will be looking to push on and make their mark at Brunton Park in the 2022/23 campaign.

And arguably, the young players at the club couldn't ask for a better opportunity this summer.

Some of that will be down simply to squad depth.

While Simpson is keen to recruit as much of his squad as possible before the return to training on June 22, the need to sign the right players as opposed to the available ones means that a degree of patience will likely be required.

So while it would be an ideal scenario to have the full new-look squad ready to go for the opening friendly at Penrith on July 1, it's an unlikely propsect. That's the case for any club, not just Carlisle.

That naturally means there will be some gaps in various areas in the early weeks of pre-season. Gaps which will likely be filled with young players.

Simpson has already confirmed that he is in no rush to sign another goalkeeper and will see how the position pans out over the summer. There is therefore a huge window of opportunity for one of Breeze or Simons to show the Carlisle boss why he doesn't need to sign a number two.

At the back, Carlisle are short of defensive options having allowed Rod McDonald and Kelvin Mellor to depart - with Dynel Simeu and Mitch Roberts' loan spells coming to an end.

Kilsby, therefore, is likely to receive an opportunity. Ellis should similarly be targeting plenty of involvement given the continued absence of Joel Senior with a long-term injury.

Charters, Bell and Fishburn may have to force their way past some more senior options ahead of them, but Carlisle's squad is still not overflowing with depth and the trio will get their chances.

But while it may be a necessity in the short-term, the indications are that Simpson will give his young players every chance to make their mark on the squad in the longer term.

Ellis is proof that the Carlisle boss is willing to hand opportunities to players regardless of their age - if they make the right impression.

The full-back's first team introduction came after a string of fine performances in training that made him impossible to ignore.

Now the onus is on Ellis to carry that into pre-season, and for his fellow academy graduates to emulate his break into the first-team fold.

That's easier said than done, of course, but Carlisle United's young players arguably won't have a better chance to make their mark.

Circumstance dictates they will likely receive opportunities. They have a manager willing to put faith in youth. 

Now it's up to them.