Dean Hammond revealed today how the fear of being released rescued his Albion career.

The skipper and player of the season was given three months to prove himself after missing out on the Seagulls' last promotion.

It was the wake-up call he needed and he has never looked back.

The crunch came for Hammond after almost two years without making a first team appearance.

He was overlooked by Steve Coppell and Mark McGhee until Albion's promotion to the Championship under McGhee via the play-offs.

Hammond said: "It was just a matter of trying to put your head down and come in and work hard every day but knowing at that time I probably wasn't going to play.

"There were weeks where it was difficult but I've always had my family behind me and my friends were always there for me.

"It was just trying to get that break. I went out on loan a couple of times (Leyton Orient and Aldershot) and it didn't really work out.

"But I came back here, had that three-month contract and maybe that is the best thing that ever happened to me.

"It gave me a kick up the backside. It was either do or die. Over that summer I didn't stop training, I came in to give it my best for three months and then Mark McGhee threw me into the home game against Preston and it has just really kicked on from there.

"I always believed in my ability but every manager has different opinions. Steve Coppell didn't play me when he came in but I still respect him, he is a fantastic manager.

"There were times when you came in thinking what's the point' but it is a matter of getting through times like that. At the moment I am the happiest I have ever been."

No wonder. Hammond has responded to his promotion to the captaincy with 11 goals from midfield. He was a runaway winner of the player of the season award, polling nearly half the votes.

Dean Wilkins' side have only just escaped relegation but for the 24-year-old from Hastings it has been his best season at the club he joined at the age of 11.

"Playing in the Championship last season was good and the year before I enjoyed playing a bit part but this season I've had more of a major role and the captaincy has been really good for me," he said.

"I think the responsibility has helped me massively and the technical side of things in training under the gaffer has helped develop me as a footballer as well. The way the team plays really suits the way I play, so I have enjoyed this season."

It could have been even better but Hammond played with a hernia problem from the home game against Northampton in October until missing the return fixture at the end of March.

"It started on the right-hand side, so I was compensating on the left the more I played and it ended up being a double hernia," he explained.

"It's not a painful thing, it just kind of restricts you a bit. It was only hurting when I was striking a ball or sprinting, so it wasn't too bad.

"I had the operation three weeks ago, I've started running and it feels good. I will be fit for the start of pre-season."

Hammond is strong both defensively and in attack. With such all-round attributes it is not altogether surprising to discover his heroes are two other midfield captains, Steven Gerrard and Roy Keane.

He has read their autobiographies and would love one day to play under Sunderland boss Keane.

"He has done a fantastic job," Hammond said. "When he went there they were bottom and now they have got promotion. I think he would be a great manager to play under."

For the foreseeable future though, Hammond is quite content to continue progressing with Albion.

He is under contract until the end of next season and, after the season he has just had, is in a strong position to re-negotiate but he chuckles at the notion.

"I don't really think about those things. I'm looking forward to next year. I think it will be a good year for us.

"The young boys that have come in have had a season to develop and now know what it is about.

"Adam Hinshelwood will be coming back and the gaffer now has had a year's experience as well. I think next year will be very exciting for the club.

"I've always wanted to play for Brighton. When I wasn't playing and the team was doing particularly well, winning trophies and getting promoted, I was on the outside seeing that and I always wanted to be a part of it.

"I'm a local lad, my family are here, my friends are here, so it would be brilliant to do it for Brighton.

"I think there is a lot left to come from me. I don't think I have showed 100 per cent of what I can do. Hopefully that will come in the years to come."

Leave your message of congratulations to Dean Hammond for his player of the year award below.