Last time Macclesfield Blues plied their trade in National League 1, the season effectively ended before it had barely begun. When you’ve got a limited squad and you lose a whole front 5 in the first game of the season, any team, even one with strength in depth, would struggle to continue to compete. We all know how that season ended, but we’ve also seen the team’s resurgence during a dominant National League 2 North campaign.
When the Blues next step out on to the turf at Priory Park they’ll be playing their trade against the big boys once more. Are they ready? Do they have what it takes to compete this time? Do they have the will and the desire to mix it with the glamour boys of National 1? The person best qualified to answer those questions is Macclesfield Blues’ Head Coach, Giles Heagerty. Here’s what he thinks.
What lessons did you learn from your previous experiences in National League 1?
“I think the two principal lessons we learned from our last experience in National 1 is that depth of squad is the key to success, and that even when you have a large enough squad to cope with the demands of the league, physical preparation is also hugely important. Other than that I don’t really think we were a million miles away from being able to compete at the higher level, though the results might not necessarily support that. In terms of our rugby ability we were up there with the best of them: but in terms of squad depth and managing the physicality of the league we still have work to do.”
Although the Blues lost quite a few games in National 1 last time out, would it be fair to say that in most of the games the team were competitive, and only faltered in the last quarter of matches?
“Yes, I think that is a fair comment. We played some very good rugby and showed that we had the ability to always score points, regardless of who we were playing. Were we struggled was in keeping up the pressure for the whole game. We often ended up putting 80 minutes of defending into 60 minutes of rugby, and the consequence of that was that for the last 20 minutes the team were out on their feet. You could put that down to all sorts of reasons; be that injury, player unavailability and squad depth, particularly in the forwards.”
“You have to bear in mind that between the last kick of pre-season training and the end of the first competitive game of the National 1 season, we effectively lost the whole of our front 5. When that happens you really are put under the pump. Although the boys that came in as replacements did a fantastic job, we were really up against it from there on and struggled to cope. The challenge we now have is to ensure that the lads currently in the squad are physically ready for what lies ahead, and the lads we manage to bring in are able to compliment the current squad.”
Will you do anything differently this time around, or is it simply a matter of finessing what you’ve already managed to build?
“That’s a good question, and I think the honest answer is that, although I’m satisfied with where we are, there are still undoubtedly some things we need to get better at. We need to work more on some things we’ve been doing during the course of this season, but I’m not going to reveal what as I know others read these interviews. Let’s just say there are things we need to do better. Other than that we’ll stick to what we’ve done.”
“We also need to evolve constantly, so we’ll bring in new ideas during the course of the season which I think is important, not just for keeping other teams honest, but also for our own players’ development. We are also going to make one of two changes to our structure and how we work our week; the details of which we’re currently finalising. I think that will make a big difference to how we prepare physically and mentally for each game.”
Is the squad likely to stay together for next season, are you losing some players?
“I think it likely that we will lose a couple of players. One player has already indicated that he’s not going to come back for next season, and I think deep down I half expected that anyway. There are also one or two other lads who haven’t quite made up their minds yet. These players have got decisions to make, and I’ll support them no matter what, because they’ll be making the decisions for the right reasons.”
“You have to accept that playing in National 1 is a big commitment, not just on Saturdays but during the week too. Physical preparation is massive, so you have to be able to spend time and put the effort in in the gym. Some of the boys have big jobs and young families, so committing fully might prove to be just too difficult. I’ve always maintained that we need to do what’s right for the players. We’re not full-time rugby players, and they have to have everything else in order so that when they are with us they are fully concentrated on the game in hand.”