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Interviews

INTERVIEW: We've done the hard yards to get there

Paul Huntington on League One, embracing the challenge, and the rigours of pre-season

6 July 2023

Interviews

INTERVIEW: We've done the hard yards to get there

Paul Huntington on League One, embracing the challenge, and the rigours of pre-season

6 July 2023

It’s pre-season number 20 for defender Paul Huntington – who is entering his second season with his hometown club – and he admitted this week that they aren’t getting any easier when we caught up with him following a punishing morning of work.

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“They’re just never easy,” he said. “It’s not the most enjoyable, not nice really, but it’s needed to make sure we all get fit for August. You put in the hard yards, certainly for the first couple of weeks, before the match fitness then kicks in.

“The games start to take over after that. We have seven friendlies in total, six that the majority will play, and that’s good. We’ve had just over four weeks off so it’s obviously a lot shortened, but we’ll take that with the way we got promoted last season.

“If you could guarantee it every time, it’s the best way to do it, and we accepted that the time off was going to be shorter because of it ... but we were kind of hoping that pre-season wasn’t going to be as hard.

“It’s good to be back, good to see the lads and I think the key word is to say that there’s a ‘buzz’ around the city.

“From speaking to friends, with the way the kits have been received and the fixtures coming out, then the rumours about signings and names mentioned – I get asked most days if we’re signing this person or that person – you can see that there is an excitement there.

“It’s up to us to keep that buzz going.”

There’s no getting away from the fact that the sessions are tough, with every individual pushed to the limit within a very structured framework.

“You wake up every day very sore ... well I do!” he joked. “Today is only the fourth day and I think the first 10 days is very much about your base fitness. That’s obviously different to your match fitness.

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“Getting that in the bank and getting through it is important. The manager is good with us older players and he’s sort of said that we have to tell him if we’re going to need to miss half of a day, or anything along those lines.

“He knows that we know our bodies and we have to speak up. I think this year is my 20th pre-season and I’m never at the front of the runs, but I just do what I can to get through it and I hang on to a few coat tails really.”

“It’s definitely changed over the years,” he added. “With the work you do over the first few weeks you know it’s hard, and even going into the last couple of friendlies you go into those games tired, so you’re probably not going to be the best version of yourself at that point.

“It’s more about thinking about getting yourself in shape for the long run. The end goal is the end of the tunnel when you’re going out there to do it properly for the first time on 5 August.

“That’s when it really matters. Obviously pre-season matters, but when points are at stake it all ramps up. We’re going into a new league and it’s a new challenge but it’s one that I’m sure we’ll be ready for.

“When people ask if it’s sunk in yet that we’ve got the promotion I think it has for me. When the fixtures came out I think everyone was excited and I think it’s where this club deserves to be, at the least.

“We’ve done the hard yards last year to get there, and deservedly so, in my opinion, we ended up getting out of that division. We’re going up against better players and better teams now, but that’s what we all want.

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“You want to embrace that kind of challenge and attack it. I don’t think it’s anything to be feared. We’re going up a league but at the same time I don’t think it’s anything like going from the Championship to the Premier League.

“You’re playing against better players but I think we’re quietly confident with the pre-season we’ll have behind us, and the extra signings that are going to be coming here will add something again. It could be that we might be a bit of an unknown for a lot of teams we’ll face.

“You can say the same the other way round, but when I look at the season to come I do think we’ll be ok. Hopefully we can get off to a good start. We’ve been used to winning games so let’s use that momentum to take into the new season.”

Picking up on his point that the promotion had been earned, we reminded that he’d been one of those leading up to the Wembley trip who had repeatedly indicated just how important it was to make sure it was a day that brought the correct end result.

“It’s what you remember, isn’t it,” he replied. “The winners get remembered and it was a little bit of history for the football club that we’re now all part of.

“We’ve been through a lot of maybe not so good times in recent years and it was good for everyone, not just the club but the fans, the local businesses, everything.

“I know the manager always talks about the local businesses that have helped us along the way, so it’s nice for them to be part of it. Then there’s things like the school kids and younger children who are all now coming to the games, and I think that matters.

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“Another brilliant thing is that we’ve taken the trophy round to different places and you can see everyone’s faces light up when they get to see it and get a picture taken with it.

“Hopefully with the amount of youngsters you see in shirts it means that we’ve caught the next generation. Even if they weren’t able to come to the games so much, you can see from those that went to Wembley that they’ve got the buzz.

“I’ve seen some of the interviews the manager’s done and he talks about more of those businesses and more people coming through the gates to help us, because the more support we get from everywhere the more it helps the club in the long run.

“As I’ve said before, it was a fantastic weekend, a day that we’ll never forget, a brilliant memory, but at the same time it moves on. When I spoke to the manager at the end of last season, when we had our meetings, he was saying that football doesn’t stand still.

“It’s constantly evolving and moving and while we’ve achieved that, you always have to want more. You want to do well at the next level so it’s about testing ourselves this season and making sure we do ourselves and the club proud, as we did last year.”

That message is certainly reflected in the standard and intensity seen in all of the training sessions so far.

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“I think since I set foot in the door I’ve seen that the manager demands that,” he told us. “He’s got a great relationship with the fans and in the changing room he’s got the respect of the players.

“We know what to expect because I think he wants to improve every area of the club. Again, that can only be a good thing going forward in the long term.

“He said before our Monday session that this week was going to be really hard and that we were going to end up feeling really tired, but we have to get our heads round it and get on with it.

“The training might taper down a bit once the games start coming but they’ll be harder football fitness sessions, whereas at the moment we’re doing quite a bit of football mixed with running.

“It goes without saying that the lads enjoy the football work more than the running, but we have set figures that we aim to hit with GPS and things like that, so that also guides the manager on what he does with us.

“It’s all about getting through it and making sure we’re as ready as we can be. Last year we had a lot of players missing for a long time, for long periods, and they were key players as well. There was the odd time last year when you’d look at the bench and it would be looking quite thin.

“I know between the physio department and the staff that they’ve been looking at different things because I think it’s important that we give ourselves the best chance of having everybody available.

“That’s not saying that those lads didn’t before, but there are a few tweaks that the staff have been looking at that can help us hopefully not have as many missing for as many games.

“That would make us stronger because looking back at last year, maybe those absences were the difference between us making automatic promotion and just falling short by five or six points. That could be key in this league as well.

“We’re not setting targets, we’re looking forward to the first game and hopefully we’ll see a packed Brunton Park with all of those lovely home shirts … and away shirts.

“We’re going into a higher league, it isn’t going to be plain sailing, but if we stick together and attack it in the best way we can then we’ll be fine. If we get the players in that we want it adds to it as well, and it’s all just something we’re really looking forward to.”

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So is it the same sense of anticipation for the players as it is for the fans as they wait for those players to come through the door?

“It definitely is,” he asserted. “The manager was saying this morning to everyone that we didn’t need to get frustrated that we haven’t added new faces yet.

“He told us that they’re speaking to a lot of players, and I said after he’d spoken that this is pretty normal for League one and League Two.

“I’ve been at clubs before where you come back and you have single figures of senior players to train with. It’s almost like you’re starting again.

“I don’t think anyone’s thinking like that here, with these things some can be done quite quickly, as they have been with the three lads who have come back, and some deals are a bit more complex and take more time.

“With loans you can find that some clubs don’t want to let their lads out as they wait for players who have been away on international duty to return, or they want to simply just keep them for a training number for friendlies.

“Some of these things do take time but I’m confident in what the manager, Greg and Jakey are doing and I know that we’ll definitely get the players we need. It’s just sometimes you’ve got to be more patient than what you would like.

“As players we are looking forward to seeing those new faces and I’m sure they’ll improve us.”

We’ll have the second part of our interview with Paul Huntington on the official website later this week.


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