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Interviews

INTERVIEW: I'd love to stay next year

Paul Huntington on the season so far

8 January 2023

Interviews

INTERVIEW: I'd love to stay next year

Paul Huntington on the season so far

8 January 2023

When Paul Huntington signed for his boyhood club on a one-year deal in August last year his stated aim was to play as many games as possible, and to do his bit to help manager Paul Simpson to push the club forward, and it’s fair to say he’s done just that so far with two goals and 22 appearances just part of the story.

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The experience and calm approach the 35-year-old has brought to the dressing room, and onto the pitch simply can’t be measured in terms of its positive impact, but when we spoke to him last week he echoed the message that has become very familiar over the last few weeks – there’s still more to come.

“We’re halfway through the season and I think it’s been ok,” he said. “I don’t want people to think I’m down, I just think it can be a lot better from us.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to add to the group this month to fill in for the injuries and the lads who have gone back from their loans. We can hopefully get people in to help us and keep the lads who are already here fit.

“My dad texted me after the Doncaster game and he actually said that when you think about it as a whole, with the games we’ve played and the injuries we’ve had, we’ve done very well as a group.

“I’m always striving for better, but from where the club was last year, since the manager has come in, it’s been a real upward curve. We want that to keep getting better and close the gap to the top three places.

“There’s a bit of work to do on that but there’s a lot of games left and points to play for. After this weekend we’ll be looking forward to getting back out on Brunton Park to hopefully get another three points.”

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Looking for where this demand for improvement is coming from, he explained: “The demand for better comes from the manager, but I don’t think it’s just about what we do on the pitch.

“I know he wants better training facilities and a better budget to bring in better players, and I think that’s only a good thing for the whole football club.

“I think it’s in good hands, he demands daily which is the best way to be. We’re striving to be better and to get to where we want to get to in early May.

“I think it’s about us getting that consistency now. We’ve had a couple of back-to-back wins but I don’t think we’ve done three in a row. Looking back it was maybe a game too far last weekend at Doncaster.

“The start didn’t help, from myself or how we were as a group, we were poor on the day apart from the last ten minutes or so when we gave it a go. You usually have an extra day and play three in seven days instead of three in six.

“Even though Crewe had the man sent off we still had to do the hard yards to make sure we kept the clean sheet in that game. So this break gives us a chance to get some lads back training and more fitness into some of them before we go into the next batch of games.

“It’s Saturday-Saturday when we first get back but after that we’ve got a run of Tuesday games so it will be pretty hectic. I think most players would rather play than do training. When we had that break for the weather a couple of weeks ago, it is strange, you’re just training and training on Astro, which wasn’t ideal.

“It was just something we had to do, but you’re just waiting for the next game. That’s why the batch of games we’ve got at the end of January gives us a really good chance to pick up a head of steam.”

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What can often be missed through all of the talk of needing to be better, and demands for improvement, is the fact that we’re currently sitting in fourth place – surely an indication that something is right.

“It’s like anything, we’ve done well but you always want more and you want to be better,” he insisted. “I’m the same as the rest of the lads and all the staff around the place, once you’re in it you’re fully invested and you just want to keep improving.

“I don’t spend a lot of time looking at the table, you have a quick glance after a game, but I don’t look at it too closely. The manager has spoken about making sure we do the hard work now so we’re still in a good position for the last ten games, which is the business end of the season.

“He’s had success in this league before and there are a few in the dressing room who have had promotions, and when you get to those last ten games that’s when it really counts.

“Not that it doesn’t count until then, we just need to make sure we continue the form so we’re still up there at that point. We’ve maybe had a few too many draws where we haven’t been consistent, but there’s a really good team spirit around the place.

“I think all of us want to do better and get better, but I think we’re all really looking forward to the second half of this season once we’ve had this little break so we can continue what we’ve been doing.”

Having come into the club with an open mind when he first signed, we wondered if it had gone better than he’d expected, particularly with the team proving to be so hard to beat.

“I know I’m repeating myself but I just came in thinking it can be a lot better,” he reiterated. “The obvious aim would be to say play-offs or automatic, but I guess the belief has just grown as we’ve got results.

“If we haven’t then usually, in general, we’ve reacted well. If we can do the back-to-back wins, or even three, you soon make that gap up.

“In terms of when I came in, I was hoping, and don’t get me wrong, I thought it would be far from perfect. Even now we’re still a long way from what we can be.

“But the group of lads, I think everyone is genuine, it’s an honest group, there’s a lot of people look at themselves if they haven’t hit the standards, and the manager demands that.

“That’s a good thing for us going forward, and some of the younger players might feel he’s maybe on their back, but it's just because he sees the potential in them to make them better.

“I didn’t have a set idea of what this season would be, I just thought I’d do my best, try and make them better, it’s about the team not me. We’ve got a goalscorer in Denno, we’ve got quite a solid spine, I think the main thing has been keeping people right, keeping people fit.

“Maybe some of the younger players haven’t played week-in, week-out, and their bodies aren’t used to it – managing when to train, when to take a day with the physio, when to come off straight away. Those have been factors, but I feel if we can improve upon that and keep hold of our best players, which is important as well as adding to it, I’m hopeful that we can be up there.” 

Having that experience of coping with all of those factors has to be of use in the dressing room, particularly as we head into this next important phase.

“I think the young ones mostly look after themselves in the dressing room but if a game doesn’t go well I do feel a lot of responsibility,” he admitted. “Whether that comes from people around town letting me know, or the silence being deafening sometimes, but I do feel a lot of responsibility.

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“I don’t want to be downbeat because we’re in a really good position in the league, but we’re definitely on the right path with the manager in charge of demanding from the players and from the club.

“He wants everything to be better, and it’s little things like we now all have breakfast and lunch here, which is more professional. That kind of thing is important these days for recovery and living right rather than going off and doing your own thing.

“You have two meals a day taken care of and I think that’s important for the younger lads especially. I feel as though we’re improving everywhere we can and even though we’ve got a long way to go we’re definitely on the right track.”

As for the fans, the players take just as much interest in the transfer window activity as anyone else, with those who live local often accosted for the inside information whenever they’re out and about.

“Players talk so it’s always there in the dressing room,” he confirmed. “We talk about who is going back or staying, and any new lads that might come up.

“We’ve got Jack Robinson in so far and if we can get a couple of others in they’ll give us a lift, especially with the injuries we’ve picked up in the last couple of weeks.

“I think it’s important that we bring new faces in to really push us on towards the second half of the season and hopefully make the difference while those injured lads are out, then they’ll make us stronger when they come back as well.

“The older I’ve got the less I listen to rumours, I’ve had people asking me this week about players coming and going, but I just say I’ll believe it when I see it. If I had £1 for every time I was told a rumour I’d be rich.

“Nine times out of ten they don’t happen because a lot of it is just talk, so we’ll just wait to see who actually comes in the door.”

As for his own contract situation, he said: “I’d love to stay next year. I need to keep playing and keep myself right when I’m away from training.

“The manager has been really good with me in terms of managing what I’m doing. On a Monday after a Saturday game I’ll do a warm down in the gym and the pool.

“If we have a really hard training session mine will be modified or I’ll do something different, but that’s something I spoke to the manager about before I signed. He’s stuck to his word and it’s all about making sure I’m ready for matches.

“He had Steve McMahon at Blackpool who managed him really well and he’s doing the same with me now. The older I’ve got the more you’re aware of the nutrition side and knowing what to do to recover.

“Jack Stretton the other day was saying it’s the first time he’s had a hamstring injury so he wasn’t really sure how it should feel, so he’s tried to push on and maybe not been aware of how bad it was or maybe thought it was cramp.

“That comes with experience and I just listen to my body to make sure I’m right for the games, not just able to be out there to play, but hopefully make an impact as well.

“I know the manager mentioned two or three years when I first signed and I’m hopeful of that. We’ll see with the games and things like that this season. For next year, and then after that, year, I’d love to stay here.

“Hopefully the manager is here longer than his contract, because I feel as though long term, now or next year, we will get to where we want to be. The club’s in good hands, we just need to keep building that togetherness with the fans, and everyone around the place.

“I feel as though there’s a lot of really good people in the club, local people that maybe some he’s brought back, a lot who were already here. I feel that goes a long way, they’re on the same page and really want you to do well. That all helps.

“Whereas maybe at some other clubs you wouldn’t have that. It’s a really tight-knit group. I’d love to finish here and play as long as I can. It did cross my mind in the summer whether I wanted to, but own form.that feeling of winning, being part of something and achieving something, that’s why you’re in it.

“Not just being out there ticking off the games. Winning. I’d love to keep myself right as long as I can. And as long as I’m able, continue to do it.”


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