So now we know the score. Macclesfield Blues will kick off the 2014/15 National League 1 season with homes games against Richmond and Fylde. Two home games is obviously a great advantage for a team with a good home record; but two games against teams who finished second and fourth respectively in the league last season might also be viewed as a kind of baptism of fire. But should the supporters worry? Should they be scared about being thrown into the deep end straight away? Well, Head Coach, Giles Heagerty, isn’t worried by the prospect, so we guess the supporters shouldn’t be either. What does Giles think of this coming season’s fixture list, are there any games that he’s particularly looking forward to, or any that might be likely to cause a few sleepless nights? These are the questions Macclesfield Rugby put to Giles when we met up earlier this week. Here are his thoughts.
Did your heart lift or sink when you first saw next season’s fixture list?
“Well, it’s very easy to get distracted when you look at the fixtures, especially if you fixate on certain teams, but the fact is it is what it is. I prefer to just focus on ourselves and our home games, and let the rest take care of itself. The fact is there are no easy games in this league. It might sound flippant, maybe even a little bit clichéd, but the truth is every team in this league is capable of beating the others if the circumstances are right. We’re actually quite lucky in that we have got two homes games to start with. That fits in with our aim of making Priory Park a fortress. In the past our ground has not been one that other teams look forward to visiting: hopefully we’ll be able to build on those foundations and ensure that Priory Park is a ground teams don’t want to come to.”
So what do you see as the major challenges?
“Our main challenge this season is to try to win all our home games. After that our focus will be on winning as many away games as we possibly can. Obviously every team would like to win every week, but that’s not realistic in such a competitive league. All teams will have off days. Anyway, having two homes games to start with will be a nice start to the season and should set us on the right sort of road. Obviously the downside to that is that two of our final three games will be away from home to Wharfedale and Richmond, but you can’t have it both ways.”
“In terms of the teams we’ll face this year, well we’re aware that it will be challenging. You’ve got some very strong sides, and you’ve also got some very historical sides like Blackheath who claim to be the oldest rugby club in the country. The league is steeped in tradition and is full of teams with a longstanding National 1 pedigree. They’ve no intention of giving up this privilege, and it’s up to us to make sure we become a permanent part of that group too. I’m actually looking forward to some of the visits anyway: Richmond and Blackheath are two of my favourite clubs to play at, and trips up to Fylde and Wharfedale are always great too. As far as I’m concerned the season can’t start soon enough.”
The Blues have already got experience playing against all of the teams in National League 1, either last season or in 2012/13, but have yet to play the league’s new boys, Hartpury College. Do you know much about the team?
“Hartpury are an interesting team. They’ve clearly developed something similar to the Loughborough product, in that they’ve also managed to build an incredibly successful rugby programme there on a minimal budget; what’s more they’ve managed to achieve this without really capitalising on the links with Gloucester Rugby club, even though the Premiership outfit play there. Unfortunately I believe those links might be a little bit stronger this year. How deep those links will run remains to be seen, but what we do know is that they’ll be a competitive side, with or without help from Gloucester, so we won’t be underestimating them. The problem they might face, and this applies to Loughborough too, is that with student-based sides it’s impossible to know when you’ll have your full and strongest squad available.”
Do you think Ealing Trailfinders will find the drop back down to National League rugby difficult to deal with?
“That’s a difficult one to call. Obviously they’ll be disappointed not to have managed to stay in the Championship, and may even be a little dispirited, but I suspect they’ll readjust very quickly. If you believe everything you hear there’s been a lot of turnover there since the relegation, with 28 out and possibly 26 in. But it is possible to be relegated and go straight back up in the following season, as Macclesfield Blues have proved. Actually I think we’re probably stronger for the experience. I’m sure Ealing will have enjoyed their brief stay in the Championship and will do everything possible this year to make sure they go straight back up again. You only need to look at some of the players they have brought in to work out their intentions, so the rest of the league teams are in for a battle when they meet them.”
Are you looking forward to locking horns with ‘local’ rivals Fylde again this season?
“Do you know, I haven’t really given it much thought, and that’s no disrespect to Mark Nelson or the Fylde team. Fylde play a fun style of rugby, and I mean that in the most complementary way, so I’m looking forward to the challenge. Mark has had a very successful career, both with Fylde and with Lancashire over the last couple of years, and he obviously knows his stuff, but to be honest the only thing that’s on my radar right now is getting stuck into pre-season training, then focusing on the Richmond game in the first week of September.”