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Interviews

INTERVIEW: It's my fourth and definitely the hardest

Jon Mellish on pre-season and the season ahead

13 July 2022

With 176 appearances and 21 goals to his name, Jon Mellish heads into his fourth season with the club looking typically fit and ready to go as he continues to push the boundaries in terms of distances and targets achieved during the running phases of the sessions.

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Immediately returned to defensive duties when Paul Simpson took the reins back in February, he looks set to stake a claim for that role once again as we head into the new campaign.

But making things slightly more complicated this time round has been the arrival of Oakley, who joined the Mellish clan during the summer.

“He’s really good, he’s three-and-a-half months old now and that’s gone really quick,” he said. “We’re really enjoying it, he’s growing quick, and it’s a lot different with him being here because there isn’t really a lot of time to rest or get a bit of time to yourself, but I don’t mind that at all.

“The manager was great as well when Oakley was born. The whole way he’s gone about everything has been perfect, even off the field, with having a baby, he’s always been there.

“We had him on the Tuesday, our day off was the Wednesday and I was back on the Thursday, so he was good enough to let me have that time.”  

Back to matters of pre-season, and there’s a collective agreement amongst the players that things have been tougher than tough.

“It’s been really hard,” he confirmed. “I think I’ve been saying to everyone that it’s been the hardest one yet, especially them first few days.

“They left me in bits, but it’s really good for us. It’s getting us ready for the season ahead. We’ve got some harder pre-season games coming up and we want to test ourselves.

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“It feels like we’re in a good position at the moment, we’ve made some good signings and I think there’ll be some more as well to add to that.

“But this is my fourth pre-season here, a few gaffers, and this is definitely the hardest. I don’t remember any of them being this hard. I’ve been getting home and I can hardly walk.

“It’s exactly what we need and maybe what we haven’t had in previous years. It will only get us more ready for this year, but it’s definitely been the toughest one I’ve had.”

Explaining why that’s been the case, he commented: “It’s just the intensity and the workload. We’ve been doing more and he’s been really pushing us, and that’s what he wants.

“He wants to test us, see how much he can get out of us, so when it gets tough during the season we remember these days, remember how hard it was and we can get through it.

“We’re feeling the benefit and I think we’re getting used to it after a couple of weeks now. I know we haven’t played the hardest of teams yet and the harder ones are coming up, but we’re feeling a lot fitter and really getting through games well.

“And obviously there’s no hiding because everything is tracked. Our heart rates, running distances, the GPS is tracking every single thing we do. So there’s no point anybody trying to fake a little bit.

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"They can see how hard we’re working, we can trust that, and it’s just pushing us even more to test ourselves and keep going even further.”

And he’s often picked out at press conferences by the manager as one of the top performers when it comes to the evaluation of the stats received.

“It seems to be the only thing I can do is just run!” he joked. “I don’t really think about it, I just run. I don’t mind it, it’s part of my game and I just like to work hard.

“The other lads have been great as well. There’s a real togetherness this year. It’s been a really hard pre-season so far but everyone has had each other’s backs and we’ve been pushing everyone all the way.”

The natural progression of pre-season is to gradually increase the intensity of the friendly fixtures, with some good local tests already under the belt.

“It was nice to be back in training again but being out there and playing is much better,” he said. “It’s good to be around the place and seeing everyone again but you just want to play games.

“We enjoyed the first game against Penrith and each game gets harder. Bolton will be the same again but, like I say, it’s all good preparation.

“I think they’ve gone pretty well. We’ve conceded the one goal, and the games have been getting harder.

“Saturday probably wasn’t as good a performance, but I think we’ve been good with the ball and we just need to be a bit more clinical in the final third and be better with that final pass.”

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Featuring on the left of a back three against Penrith, Kendal and Workington, he admitted that it’s a role he enjoys and one that he hopes to cement.

“I’m really enjoying it,” he told us. “It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster with me coming here as a centre back then being used in midfield and as a striker, and now I’ve made my way back there.

“Going forward that’s the position I want to have and keep, and I want a season where I settle myself a bit and have one position. That’s definitely what I want.

“There’s no guarantees though because there’s loads of competition for places because we’ve brought in some really good players, and I think when you look at every position there are a couple of players going for it, and that can only be good in terms of pushing everyone on.

“To be fair I don’t really mind what I do. I just want to play anywhere as long as I’m playing, but going forward I want to really cement a position, and that’s the one I want on the left of the back three, so it feels nice to finally have a gaffer who’s going to put me there and keep me there, and progress with it and hopefully make that position my own.”

“Looking back, there’s been a lot of ups and downs and I’ve played in a lot of positions, I’ve been all over the pitch, but it’s done me good in terms of experience and knowing the league,” he added. “I’m in a position where I need to push on and help people in the team, and be more of a leader. 

“Simmo has been nothing but good for me, putting me in that position, putting belief in me and letting me express myself on the pitch. When a gaffer gives you confidence it can only make you feel better and play better.

“When he’s talked to me he’s said that he wants us to be forward thinking and if I can take that first touch to break forward I will. Whenever I play in defence I like to get on it, go forward and get us playing.”

The February appointment of the new gaffer brough an immediate change in the ‘feel’ around the club, and that’s something everyone is looking to build on as we go on from here.

“Things feel much different,” he agreed. “It’s my fourth season coming up, and since I’ve been here we’ve been down at the bottom end and right up at the top.

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“But I think that time since the gaffer came in near the end of the season was the highest point we’ve been at in terms of that buzz around the place, being behind each other, pushing each other on.

“Hopefully we can take it into a full season, after a full pre-season, and see where we can go. It does seem like it’s happening quickly.

“We’ve only been in a couple of weeks and we’re already looking at starting it off against Crawley at the end of the month.

“It’ll be nice to have the home game on Saturday against Bolton and that’ll be when it will feel like we’re getting going properly.  

“With the way it went with the gaffer at the end of the season I think it’s shown that we can really push on. We were playing well and we beat some good teams, so if we can get going again like that this year who knows what can happen.”

Still fresh in the memory is the way the fans home and away lent their support from the stands and terraces.

“It would be really good to see a big crowd against Crawley,” he agreed. “I think some of the best games here at the end of the season were because there were some good crowds and we were really getting pushed.

“We played some good attacking football and when that crowd gets behind you it makes a massive difference. If we can get that for the Crawley game it’ll be a very good day.”

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