Life as a coach can be tough. You’ll get the blame for many things, even those things that are out of your control. When things go right you’ll receive a pat on the back: when things go wrong you, alone, carry the can. Still you can’t complain, as the criticism comes with the territory. However, what you can do, when given the opportunity, is answer those criticisms and put your point of view over to anyone who chooses to listen. So this week, we’ve done that. We’ve given Macclesfield Blues’ Head Coach, Giles Heagerty, the chance to respond to some of the criticism levelled at his side. Here’s what he had to say:
How do you respond to the criticisms which suggest that two promotions followed by two immediate relegations can only indicate that Macclesfield Blues have reached a plateau?
“I was thinking about that very thing yesterday, and I have to say I don’t agree with those criticisms. We haven’t reached a plateau. I think rugby in the North is in a fairly healthy state, but for a number of reasons there is a London and South East-centric draw and attraction which makes player recruitment and retention in the rest of the country very difficult. That unfortunately will always skew the level of competition and make our task much more difficult.”
“Never the less, the reality is you have to play within your means. I wouldn’t say we’ve overachieved, but we’ve done as well as we could in the circumstances. We played some great rugby in the season where we pipped Darlington to the National League 2 title. Everyone wanted to win the title desperately. We achieved that, but was it the best thing for the Club at the time? Possibly not. After that huge achievement we struggled the following season for a number of reasons, and were relegated.”
“The reasons for our trials and tribulations this season have been a little bit different. There was always going to be a cash issue during the campaign. We knew that as things stood we couldn’t compete with some of the budgets of our competitors in National 1: nor should we have tried. I think that’s a very important point, as you really have to play within your means if you want to survive and be sustainable. There is a long list of Clubs who’ve come a cropper and bankrupted themselves chasing promotion. We don’t want to be one of those casualties.”
You said at the start of the season that if the Blues were to survive in National 1 they would need a plan B: in retrospect do you think the Blues also needed a plan C and D?
“I’m not sure about that, but I think there are certain parts of our game that we still need to develop and work on. If I’m being brutally honest I have to admit that we don’t really have a great kicking game of any value at this point. We’ve made no secret about that, and we are going to invest time and resources in addressing that.”
“However, I really don’t think it’s a question of having a plan: I think it’s more an issue of mentality. Having a plan is fine theoretically: if plan A doesn’t work you move on to plan B. Great, but where do you go to if plan B isn’t working? Game plans are fine to a degree, but you also need flexibility and the right sort of mindset. If you can get the mindset right, you can deal with issues on the field as they arise.”
“What we have to do is build on what we’ve already got and develop more of a playing framework, rather than a game plan. This will allow players a greater freedom during games. I’m sure some of our players reading this will probably be thinking, ‘what on earth is he talking about – we want a definitive to-do plan’. I can understand why they might be perplexed, but all I would say in reply is that unfortunately the game isn’t like that: rugby isn’t always black and white.”
Having been underdogs last season, how are you going to cope with being one of the favourites for promotion next season?
“I don’t know if we are one of the favourites for promotion. I don’t think you can make assumptions. Yes, you might argue that having come down from National 1 and having retained 90 per cent of the current squad, we should certainly be one of the stronger sides; but I’ve no idea what National 2 rugby is going to be like. We’ll face tough competition from those teams who were in the top third of the table last season, and also competition from Hull and Blaydon who were relegated with us. They’re all good sides, so what was a top third last season will probably become a top half of the table next season, so competition will be fierce.”
“Even though there are many uncertainties about what next season holds for us, I’m none the less very excited about the prospect of National 2 rugby. Time and experience tells us that things move on. We were out of National 1 for a year, and when we got promotion things had moved on. The same applied to National 2 when we were relegated. I’m sure National 2 will have moved on again in our absence, and the success of failure of our campaign next season will depend on our ability to adapt both on and off the field. We have a number of things we need to do better, and we’ll be concentrating on those, rather than worrying about whether or not we are one of the favourites.”