Cast your mind back to Jon Dahl Tomasson's first pre-season at Blackburn Rovers and an exciting Academy centre-back was making a real impression.

No, not Ash Phillips, though he was very good too, it was Sam Barnes. 

Then 21, the young defender has enjoyed an impressive pre-season in the absence of others. Dom Hyam was still a Coventry City player and Hayden Carter hadn't fully established himself, just back from his Portsmouth loan.

Barnes was named on the Rovers bench for the first day of the season, a 1-0 win over Queens Park Rangers, with Daniel Ayala and Scott Wharton the starting centre-backs. 

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That, remarkably, was the last day of July, owing to the World Cup in Qatar. Since August 2022, luck has not been on Barnes' side.

You need a lot to make the grade in the first team. It's hard enough without the uncontrollable elements, such as back-to-back serious injuries.

Barnes tore his anterior cruciate ligament shortly into the new season, ruling him out for the remainder. He returned for pre-season but picked up a thigh problem which prolonged his injury misery.

The 23-year-old is fit again but will leave Rovers at the end of his contract. He's been at the Academy since the age of 11.

"I'd be lying if I said it hasn't been tough," he told RoversTV. 

"I have impressed myself mentally by how well I've dealt with it. There have been a lot of low times.

"I've had really good people around me, my girlfriend, my family, the physios. They have all been massive for that.

"I feel like I've coped as well I could have, given the circumstances. I've come through it and I'm now looking to the future and where I go next.

"Mentally, I'm in a much stronger position. My girlfriend would come here and say I've had moments wondering when I'll catch a break or when will my luck turn.

"It's been one thing after the other. Learning to walk again after the injury I had, I'd been in a lot of pain. This season, it hasn't gone how I wanted it to through no fault of my own.

"That's the way my cards have been dealt. I have come through it, I'm in a good place now and I've shown that I can do it. I know I'll go on to do good things."

"It's a mix of emotions, I'm gutted to be leaving the club that I've been at since I was 11 and supported as well," he added on the expiry of his deal.

"I'm also excited for the future, what that holds. I think it is probably the right step in my career to move on and show people what I can do and what people here know what I can do.

"I've been very fortunate to have 12 years here with fantastic staff. I've always spoken highly of them here. The players coming through have been very fortunate to work with such talented people.

"The fans have been brilliant, the ones messaging me and wishing me well. It's a shame I couldn't show them what I can do more but I'm from Blackburn, I know what the community is like."

Barnes made his first competitive start for Rovers against Walsall in the Carabao Cup first round this season, a reward for his patience and perseverance after his first setback.

That day will always be special for the young defender, who has the shirt framed at his parent's house. An achievement nobody can take away from him.

"It's been a very long journey, lots of ups and downs. A lot of downs recently but I've played for the first team and that was my aim as a kid," he reflected.

"Coming through the Academy here, it's been a long journey. I loved playing at Ewood, I've played there with the younger ages and pre-season matches but to play a competitive game, I enjoyed putting the strip on.

"I would've liked to have played more but given the circumstances of the last few years, I haven't been able to achieve that. 

"I've got the shirt up at my mum and dad's house framed and I'll hold that forever."

"I've always been hungry but I have learned a lot of different things," he continued, ready to embark on a new chapter.

"I have learned to be patient. When I came back for pre-season last year, I wasn't as patient as I could've been. I wanted to be straight back at it.

"I have learned things about myself, what I can achieve and overcome. 

"I see this as a new chapter. It's unfortunate that my chapter at Blackburn has ended, not how I hoped or thought it would. 

"That chapter is closed and I'm excited for wherever that may be. I back myself to play games, I know my luck will turn and once I get that run I can show people how good I am.

"I think people have only seen glimpses, I've got a good feeling. It's been on my doorstep so maybe I'll have to move away or a longer journey than 10 minutes."