EDDIE Howe hailed Steve Cook an “inspiration” after the defender made his 300th appearance for Cherries – eight years after cutting his teeth in non-league.

Hastings-born Cook was in early 2011 playing for Mansfield Town in the Blue Square Premier – now known as the National League – where he was on loan from Brighton.

In October of that year, the centre-half was persuaded to join Cherries on loan by then-manager Lee Bradbury and the following January he signed permanently for the princely sum of £150,000.

It proved money well spent with Cook playing a key role in the Dorset club’s meteoric rise from League One to the Premier League and subsequent success at the top level.

The 27-year-old, who also spent time on loan at Eastbourne, Eastleigh and Havant & Waterlooville early in his career, is one of seven outfield players in the Premier League not to have missed a minute of action this season and hit the 300 landmark in the 2-0 defeat at Cardiff City on Saturday.

Cherries boss Howe told the Daily Echo: “It’s a great milestone for Cookie. It seems as if those 300 appearances have gone so quickly.

“When I started working with him when I first came in, I saw a real talent and possibilities of a real player.

“But he’s had to do a lot of hard work and growing in that period and he’s done it in the team, which is very difficult to do.

“Through the levels we have improved, he has grown with the team and into the player he is now.

“In my opinion, he is still improving with every experience and is a massive player for us.

“It is rare (to go from non-league to the top flight) and it gets harder and harder because of the level of the Premier League.

“For the boys who are in the Conference, it’s not impossible but it’s a really tough journey to go through.

“First and foremost, you need a great attitude, you need the ability and the opportunity to show you can do it and Cookie has done all of those things.

“He is an inspiration to young players who are looking at that journey and is a role model for the younger guys in the squad to look up to.

“He is someone who leads by example and has taken to that role very well.”

Cook has filled in as Cherries skipper on occasion this season.

Howe said: “That’s the next stage of his progress. He is definitely captain material and developing his leadership is something he wants to do.

“That will be very important for us.”

Cook will hope to continue his ever-present season when Cherries travel to Liverpool on Saturday.

He did not miss a minute of the 2016-17 campaign, which helped him earn the Daily Echo-Micky Cave player-of-the-year award.