DARRELL Clarke is one step closer to fulfilling his ambition of managing in the Football League – but he anticipates a struggle in the Conference next season.
The former Pools favourite made it back-to-back promotions with Salisbury City at the weekend as his side edged out Dover Athletic by the odd goal in five in the Conference South play-off final.
The victory charts a remarkable rise for Clarke and The Whites, who were demoted two divisions in 2010 after failing to meet payment deadlines.
But under the guidance of the 35-year-old they have now regained their fifth-tier status and, with it, a whole host of plaudits for their boss.
“It’s been an unbelievable couple of years for us,” Clarke told SportMail, “I have to pinch myself sometimes at how well it’s gone.
“For me now my record says two promotions and that’s brilliant.
“I make no secret of my ambition and I want to manage in the Football League.
“I have learned so much over the past few years and the great thing about this club is that I get a say in everything.”
So what type of manager is the man who, during his playing days, earned the nickname “Trigger” for his off-the-field antics and infectious personality?
“Discipline is everything with me,” he sounded in a very definite fashion.
“I’m all about the work-ethic, on the training ground and on the pitch.
“We have our time for a laugh and that’s important, but we know that hard work has its rewards.
“We were without doubt the fittest team in the Conference South this season.
“We led the division all the way until a bit of a wobble in February but credit to the lads for coming back from that.
“We’ve had to go up through the play-offs again and at times it’s been a bit nerve-shredding.
“It would have been an injustice not to go up but the lads showed character and they have been superb for me all year.”
Clarke, though, knows what needs to be done to ready his club for an assault on the Conference.
“It will be tough next year, very tough,” he conceded.
“It could be a struggle for us to stay in the division but we’ll be giving it a damn good go.
“It’s hard because you’re up against what are essentially Football League teams.
“I will have a similar budget to this season and I’ll be working with a group of about 17 to 18 players.
“So I’ll look at everything and make some decisions on our squad.
“There is no room for sentiment in football, I’ve got to give us the best chance of staying in the Conference.”