WHEN Bury FC wonderkid David Nugent finally signed a two-and-a-half year contract on Monday he became the fourth young player to pledge his allegiance to the club writes Phil Thorp

Three of the Shakers' other promising 17-year-olds beat him in the race to put pen to paper and boss Andy Preece couldn't be more delighted.

Attacking midfielder Simon Whaley, midfielder Steve Gunby and full-back Tom Kennedy have all signed 18 month deals and the Shakers chief reckons there's no reason why all three of them shouldn't be challenging for a first team slot next season.

Attacking midfielder Whaley, from Bolton, has been unlucky with injuries this season but he has shown in his reserve performances and brief first team run-outs he has immense potential.

"He's like David Nugent in that he has bags of energy and plays with freedom," explained Preece.

"The lad is desperate to do well and is always hanging around the office asking if he is training with the first team.

"He's very keen and I think he has a big future, he was injured in the reserves last week and it's a blow that we couldn't use him at the weekend."

Boston-born Gunby, who will be 18 next month, is also a midfielder that Preece reckons will forge a career in the game.

He spent most of his formative years in the impressive Crewe Alexandra youth set-up before being released by the Gresty Road outfit.

The Shakers were quick to snap up the energetic youngster - currently on loan at Hyde United in the UniBond Premier League - and he too has impressed the manager.

"Steve was given a good grounding in his time at Crewe," added Preece.

"He is a good footballer and a good athlete that can get up and down the pitch.

"He had a little taste of the first team at the end of last season and has been unlucky to be behind a number of midfield players this term.

"But he's definitely in my plans for the future and when he comes back to the club he could force himself into the first team before the end of the season."

Meanwhile, the third player to nail his colours to the Gigg Lane mast has a footballing pedigree second to none.

Tom Kennedy is the son of former Shakers legend Keith and nephew of Liverpool and England star Alan who scored the winning goal in the 1981 European Cup final against Real Madrid.

Like his dad and uncle, Tom looks like being a classy left back and coaches at the club are delighted with the progress he is making.

"Tom had one of his best games for the reserves last week and is progressing well," said Preece.

"He has good ability and is good on the ball and though there are one or two things he needs to improve on he has great potential and that's why he has been given a contract.

"We see Tom as one for the future, if not this season then the start of the next one he should be pushing for the first team.

"He's at the first step and if he pushes on has a good chance of going all the way."

If Kennedy junior serves the club as well as his dad did in the 70s and 80s he'll be following in the footsteps of current midfielder Martyn Forrest whose goalkeeping father John was a contemporary of Keiths and is currently a coach at the club.

The drawn-out negotiations with striker Nugent were completed on Monday afternoon and a relieved Preece hopes the powerful young striker will go from strength to strength.

"We all know what David is capable of and it's great that he can now concentrate on his football," added Preece.

"He can go as far as he wants in the game and it's great news for everyone that he has finally signed.

"But all four lads can have a great future and it's up to them to carry on the improvement they have shown so far."