Hartlepool United caretaker manager Antony Sweeney reflects on his first week in charge ahead of Saturday's FA Cup tie against Brackley Town
Antony Sweeney admits he hasn’t stopped since being appointed as Hartlepool United’s caretaker manager last week.
Sweeney stepped in following Craig Hignett’s sacking last Thursday, leading the team to a 3-0 win at Aldershot Town despite not having taken a proper training session.
But now with a full week at Pools’ East Durham College training base in preparation for Saturday’s FA Cup fourth qualifying round match at home to Brackley Town, Sweeney is starting to get his fingers into his new role while also balancing it with his youth team duties.
“It’s still hectic, it’s been nice to get on the training pitch because that’s what I’m used to more than the other stuff that we’ve had to deal with,” said the United caretaker.
“We’ve had to change our plans a little bit this morning with the rain but some things are set to test you and you’ve just got to do the best you can to deal with it.
“The players have been excellent and responded with some intense, lively sessions which is required. We went to the under-19s on Wednesday night who had a good 6-0 win down at Stockport but now we’re back focusing on the first team duties now.
“I haven’t had any downtime really! I had a little bit of time on the minibus to Stockport last night when me and Guck [youth team coach Ian McGuckin] had a little chat about things and how it’s panned out and how it may pan out.
“Something I’ve learnt the past week is that your downtime doesn’t become downtime because you’re constantly thinking about team selections, training sessions, what you’re going to do, who’s available, who’s not available, preparing for games, scouting reports, so I’m starting to get why Craig was grey and hopefully I’ll survive a bit longer with the colour hair I’ve got!
“I’ll find out how beneficial training has been come five o’clock on Saturday. We’ve given the players some downtime after last week with the travelling and the situation as well as the mental side of things which can fatigue you a little bit.
“We’re just trying to get the right messages across and organise training so it reflects how we want to play but also what we might face on Saturday.”
It’s been over a week since Hignett and assistant Ged McNamee’s departure from the club but Sweeney won’t be jumping in the manager’s seat just yet as he does his best to keep things running as smoothly as possible.
“It’s still a bit strange, we’ve left the manager’s office free and no one is jumping in anyone’s seats,” he admitted.
“The dynamic around the place and on the training ground is slightly different losing two members of staff, it’s a little bit quieter and less hustle and bustle in there but we’ve just got to do the best job we can in the circumstances we find ourselves in.
“I haven’t changed much, I thought we were going about things in the right way. Everyone has their own twist and that comes out in training sessions, planning and team selections so it won’t be a million miles away but I’m hoping the little tweaks will make a big difference.
“I’ve been happy in terms of the result we’ve had but performance wise, not so much.
“The grass based stuff is fine but the other stuff, even as a first team coach, you don’t see what manager’s have to deal with and the pressure that they’re under.
“I’m realising myself that we’ve got 20 players there and arguably every one of them arguably has a case to be in the starting line-up or in the squad and that just can’t happen because the numbers don’t add up. It’s keeping them happy but that was always going to be the challenge.
“I’m constantly learning. It’s easy as a coach in the background to have an opinion on team selections and shape but when it’s actually you who has to justify that and live by your decisions then you do learn about yourself.
“You learn how to deal with it and how to deal with players. You learn by mistakes as well and I’m pretty sure over the course of this week and however long I’m in the interim position for, I will make mistakes but I’d like to think I’d learn from them and do better the next time a similar situation comes up.
“Everything will take a little bit of time to digest but no matter what happens and how long it goes on for, I’ll see it as a positive but don’t take this the wrong way, I need results no matter what.”
Despite this being his first taste of senior management, Sweeney hasn’t been fazed by what he’s faced in his opening week in the role as he looks to help Pools progress to the first round of the FA Cup and push up the table.
“Everything I’ve sort of expected so far,” he admitted.
“It’s just been a little bit more here and a little bit less there but like I say, I’m a firm believer that the players are the football club.
“If they train well then training sessions are easy to plan, if they play well then team selections are easy, it’s when things aren’t going so well when you start pulling your hair out a little bit.
“If they perform to their capabilities and our processes as a football club then I’m confident that we’ve got enough to challenge at the top end rather than look over our shoulder like we have done over the last three or four years.”