What do you know about Macclesfield Blues’ new Head Coach and Director of Rugby, Giles Heagerty? The chances are probably not as much as you think. No doubt you’ve seen him during the last couple of years down at Priory Park, but you probably don’t know all that much about his playing and coaching careers. So Macclesfield Rugby thought it might be a good idea to catch up with him. Over the course of the next few weeks we’ll be speaking to Giles about his rugby background, his aspirations, the thinking behind the appointments in the new coaching set up and Macclesfield Blues expectations for the coming season in National League 1. First up: Giles’ rugby background and his association with Macclesfield Rugby Club.
For the benefit of those who aren’t too familiar with your history, what’s your rugby background?
“I played in New Zealand in 2000/01, before going to university in Kent. Whilst studying I played for London Irish’ Academy side for 2 years, before then playing for Canterbury for 2 years and helping them get promotion into the National Leagues. I suppose my role as a coach also really began when I was at University. We didn’t have a coach at the time, and I was stupid enough to put my hand up and volunteer. After that I moved back to Manchester and needed to find a proper job. I still had aspirations to be a professional rugby player, but realised that the chances of that were unlikely. I got the chance to play at Macclesfield in 2005, and that’s when my association with the Club started. I spent a couple of seasons playing and then unfortunately injured my back quite seriously in 2007, and that forced my early retirement from the game.”
Where did the coaching side of things really start to take precedence over playing?
“I’d been doing a little junior rugby coaching at my childhood club, Wilmslow, but didn’t really think seriously about taking the role further then. I was working in London at the time and doing lots of commuting back and forth, so I had about a year off from any form of serious coaching. After I changed jobs an opportunity came up to be the assistant coach at Wilmslow. I took the job, and at the end of the season they offered me the opportunity to step up to the role of Head Coach. That’s where I spent the next 4 years or so.”
“By Christmas time of my final season in charge I took stock and came to the conclusion that I’d probably taken the team as far as I could. My intention was to see the season through, and then take some time off and spend more time with the family. During one of the Wilmslow pre-season fixtures with Macclesfield I happened to mention to Geoff about my decision to take some time out of the game. One thing then led to another, and pretty soon I was on-board as Skills Coach at Macclesfield. I’ve been doing that job for a couple of years now.”
How have you honed your coaching experience?
“Well, in the background to my roles at Wilmslow and Macclesfield, I’ve built my coaching credentials through coaching the Cheshire Under 20s side for the last 5 years, 3 years coaching the England Under 18s clubs and schools and being a Coach/Educator at the RFU. I also started my level 4 coaching badge a couple of months ago.”
Do you think it’s necessary to have played at the highest level to be a better coach?
“Not necessarily. I think there’s room for everyone in coaching whatever their background. There are obviously lots of coaches who have gone down that route – Andy Northey being the perfect example. The guy’s won everything in terms of domestic rugby across both codes, and then he’s gone on to be an incredible coach; probably, in fact, the best coach I’ve ever worked with. I suppose I’m more like Geoff, in that we were both reasonably talented players whose careers were cut short through injury. Geoff went on to achieve a great deal in his coaching career, and if I can emulate that to some degree then I’ll be pretty happy.”
“I suppose you could say that I’ve not followed the atypical pathway into high-level coaching because I’ve not played at international level or in the Premiership, but I don’t think that counts against me in any way. I think it’s important that rugby attracts coaches from all backgrounds, and I’d encourage anyone who aspires to be a coach not to be put off by the lack of high-level experience. Although I’m a teacher, I still like to believe that rugby coaching is what I do for a living. As corny as this may sound, I guess I’ve followed the dream, and now I eat, sleep and breathe rugby.”
“I’m not one for blowing my own trumpet, but I hope my experiences show people that anyone can still prosper in their chosen field so long as they’re prepared to get your head down and work hard. You’ll probably need a bit of luck along the way, like I’ve had, and you’ll need to be in the right place when opportunities arise, but I still believe with enough graft and determination anyone can achieve their dreams. What’s important in rugby isn’t necessarily having experience at the highest level; it’s understanding the detail and technicalities of the game and being able to communicate that level of detail across to the players.”