Defender Morgan Feeney settled into his first full season with the club last term with some assured and steady performances, with his determined approach at the heart of the defence eventually leading to the triggering of a clause in his contract that brought him back to the club this summer.
The 23-year-old also became a bit of a terrace hero with his ability to recover, block and tackle making him a favourite with the fans, who would spark up chants of ‘Feeeennneeeeeeyyyy’ almost every time he touched the ball.
His vital March winning goal against Oldham earned him the season’s Champagne Moment award, and he’s returned for pre-season looking sharp and fit, and with a smile on his face that suggests the confidence levels are high.
Speaking after the Friday night friendly, he said: “We’ve had a tough week or ten days, or whatever it is we’ve been in now, so it was important to get some minutes in the legs while we’re still feeling tired in a game scenario.
“That’s important because match fitness is completely different to getting fit in training. It mattered that we did it properly and the lads got a good workout, so it was good.
“It does feel a little bit like you’re getting the cobwebs off, and through the first couple of days in training you are getting back into it.
“When you’re in your first game scenario you realise you just can’t replicate that in training. That’s why it’s important you do it right and go about it like it’s your first league game. We did that. We all got out of it what we needed, and it was a professional performance.”
Featuring in the first half, it was very much a case of looking after the ball and keeping possession in front of a stubborn Penrith defensive wall.
“We knew we’d have a lot of the ball and it was important for us not to get sloppy with it,” he explained. “It’s easy to get sloppy when you have so much of the ball. Like I say, we were professional about it and it was a good night’s work.
“There’s loads of games to come in pre-season and this was the first taster. We’re all here to impress the manager and we all want to play in the first game of the season, including the young boys who have done themselves no harm, they’ve done really well.
“We’ve been away for a while, we’ve had six weeks off, so it’s just about gelling again on the pitch. Obviously it’s a great dressing room anyway, and when you get out there all you want is to do it right.”
“Credit to Penrith, they were really resolute,” he continued. “They seem like a young side but they had a right go to be fair to them. They were keen, they were young, and they were solid. We had to work hard.
“We had a lot of the ball, but eventually broke them down. We knew we just had to be patient. It was a good test, because you’re going to come up against teams like that in the season. It’s about good habits and implementing them on the pitch.”
But he admitted that ten days of gruelling sessions have been a real test, with the real work to be done centred around being ready for a hard season.
“It’s been really tough this pre-season, and we’ve all had to work hard,” he explained. “The lads have come back in really good shape, the running has been hard but the football has been hard as well.
“The lads have just dealt with it, and I think Jamie [Roper] and the manager have been delighted with the running stats and with everything we’ve put in since we got back.
“We trained this morning [Friday] and we had a rest this afternoon, so we were always going to have heavy legs. That’s why we needed to get ourselves going again for the game, which we did, and that’s going to bode well for the season.”
“It’s definitely tough, but it’s enjoyable and it’s exciting when you come back,” he continued. “You’re raring to go, and even though it’s never easy you just want to be out there and you’ve got to enjoy it while you can.
“It can seem a very long week when there’s no games, because playing the game is your target in the week. We get the first week without one and then they start to come thick and fast.
“We build towards the next one now and it’s about getting minutes and running into the legs. Hopefully with all of that we’ll be in a really good place come the start of the season.”
And, should United be successful in the Carabao Cup, it could mean a run of nine games between the Crawley opener and the end of August.
“It soon comes thick and fast and, with the amount of games that come at you, you’ve just got to be prepared individually to play every one,” he said. “I know everyone wants to play but you’ve got to have a good base fitness-wise and have the level in your legs to do that tough month.
“It’ll be like that through the whole season but hopefully come the end of the it we’ll have shown how fit we are and we’ll push on while the other teams maybe fade a little bit.
“I think that’s why the load has been really high so far, in terms of work. Team spirit’s really high because of it as well, because we’ve been dragging each other through it.
“It’s never easy but you’ve got to enjoy it with a smile on your face, it brings you closer together. I think we’re in a good place. We’re all coming through it unscathed, touch wood, and we’re feeling better from it and getting fitter and stronger by the day.”
With one game chalked off, it’s now just four weeks until it all gets very real once again.
“It’s nice to have a bit of a clean slate from what happened for much of last season, but it’s still in the memory, because we don’t want to be in that same situation again,” he told us. “We’ve all come back hungry and the new boys who’ve come in, they’re hungry as well. We’re really excited for the first game because we know we can put it right this year.
“The new lads are brilliant, the dressing room they’ve come into is a really good dressing room in terms of being welcoming, they’ve settled in as though they’ve been here a couple of years. They’ve been great additions and they’re all good lads.
“Personally, my aims last season were to play as much as possible and I got a good chunk of games in after a slow start. This year I’m hoping I can make that position my own, but everyone else wants to as well.
“Hopefully we’ve got a really competitive group and I just want to play as many games as possible and do my bit for the team.”
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