Hartlepool United first team coach Antony Sweeney reflects on spell as caretaker manager and first month working with new manager Dave Challinor

It's been a month since Antony Sweeney stepped back into his first team coaching role following a successful spell in caretaker charge at Hartlepool United.

Wednesday, 11th December 2019, 11:45 am
Dave Challinor and Antony Sweeney watching the players warming up during the Vanarama National League match between Ebbsfleet United and Hartlepool United at The Cufflink Stadium, Northfleet on Saturday 16th November 2019. (Credit: Leila Coker | MI News) Photograph may only be used for newspaper and/or magazine editorial purposes, license required for commercial use. Not for resale

The Pools legend and fan favourite was almost unanimously praised for his conduct during his five matches of caretaker following Craig Hignett’s dismissal in October.

Sweeney led the side to three consecutive wins and clean sheets in his first three matches in charge before overseeing a 2-2 draw at Notts County.

The 36-year-old’s final match in the temporary caretaker role came after Dave Challinor was announced as the new Hartlepool manager as they lost 1-0 at home to Solihull Moors.

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Hartlepool United manager Dave Challinor during the Vanarama National League match between Woking and Hartlepool United at the Kingfield Stadium, Woking on Saturday 7th December 2019. (Credit: Paul Paxford | MI News)

Sweeney took charge of a United side who had won just one of their last seven matches and quickly turned their fortunes around as they picked up their biggest win of the campaign at the time in his first match when they beat Aldershot Town 3-0 at the EBB Stadium.

The general upturn in form has more or less continued since Challinor took over as the former AFC Fylde boss was unbeaten in his first five matches in charge with a 4-1 win at Yeovil Town, a 5-1 win at Chesterfield and a 2-2 comeback draw against Exeter City to force last night’s FA Cup replay being particular highlights.

Part of the agreement that saw Challinor take the job at Pools was that Sweeney would remain part of the management team and continue his development.

And when discussing the first month working with the new manager and assistant Joe Parkinson, Sweeney told the Hartlepool Mail: “It’s been a really good working with the gaffer and Joe which has obviously been helped by the results in general.

Antony Sweeney in action against Dagenham & Redbridge. Picture by FRANK REID

“I think we’ve shown various sides to the team where we’ve played well and won or played poorly in a half and came back to draw in the second.

“We’ve dominated games and not got the results we should have this season but in terms of the overall performances and optimism for the future, I’d say it’s been a really good month.”

Sweeney worked as first team coach with Hignett and Ged McNamee as part of the previous management team and has resumed the same role following his stint in temporary charge.

And while his duties and responsibilities have remained the same, his experience at Hartlepool is something that has proven useful to club newcomers Challinor and Parkinson.

Only two players (Ritchie Humphreys, 543, and Watty Moore, 472) have played more times for Pools than Sweeney, who appeared 444 times for the club between 2001 and 2014.

“My role hasn’t changed much compared to the previous set-up because there’s a similar sort of situation with a manager and assistant with me there as a first team coach,” admitted the former United midfielder.

“I’ve still got the same responsibilities but things are a bit heavier with advice and to talk about things regarding the club and the players because I’ve been here a while and know the players.

“I suppose I’ve found myself giving the manager a heads up on players’ personalities and characteristics to find out what makes them tick and stuff like that.

“But they’re both experienced guys who are used to success so they’ll have their own ideas and for me it’s just about standing there listening and hopefully implementing it whether it be in Durham Challenge Cup games or in the future.”

Sources close to the club have suggested that Sweeney remains in the long term plans moving forward as his experience working with Challinor and Parkinson will hopefully continue to help mould him into an ideal managerial candidate for the future.

Sweeney is thought to have been very close to being appointed as manager himself but the club opted for the more experienced option and long term target in Challinor.

Had Sweeney pushed for the permanent manager’s job, it could have made things more difficult for Pools in coming to a decision. But that’s something he wasn’t keen to do as he has welcomed the return to his coaching role and working as part of the new set-up.

Sweeney’s long term ambitions are to remain in coaching though he's in no rush to make a swift return to the management hot seat.

“The past month has been really nice after how hectic it was being caretaker manager,” he continued.

“It probably didn't help that it was just me and Gucky [Ian McGuckin] in charge of two teams at once but I said when I was caretaker that it’s an experience that I’d probably reflect on and look back at it more fondly after it’s over and that’s exactly what I’m doing now.

“I learned a lot from the experience and I have no doubt that it’s made me a better coach.

“I listen to the manager’s team talks and think how I’d do things. Would I do things the same? What would I do differently? Have we seen the same game?

“This is what I’m reflecting on but the manager and the assistant Joe have been really open which can be difficult sometimes if you’re a manager coming into a club and the caretaker, me, is retained on the staff.

“But they’ve been excellent in making me feel like an important part of the team to be fair so thanks to them for making me feel like that.”