‘As tough as I can remember’ – Marine manager Neil Young details ‘mentally tough’ campaign

Marine's Niall Cummins lifts the playoff trophy.

Marine manager Neil Young revealed he was delighted with his side’s character as they won promotion to the Northern Premier League following their playoff win over Runcorn Linnets.

The Mariners occupied top spot for a number of months in the early stages of the season as they found a way to overcome opposition. However, their title ambitions were derailed during a mid-season blip that saw eventual-winners Warrington Rylands and heavy-favourites Workington AFC take the upperhand.

They did, however, play a huge role in the promotion race beating Workington in the latter stages of the season handing the advantage to David McNabb’s Rylands.

Although they managed to steady the ship in chopy waters, they could only muster a finish in the final playoff position after they were docked points for fielding an ineligible player.

Marine, as they did in 2019-20, embarked on a sensational FA Cup run but unlike the season previous they couldn’t manage their heroics. They did take National League giants Wrexham AFC to a replay, despite leading their First Round clash.

But injuries plagued their season as they fielded an unrecognisable back-line, at times, with midfielders filtering into limit the damage.

Young told Off The Park: “An unbelievable start, the FA Cup run, we were one kick away from knocking Wrexham out of the FA Cup but then I said all along when you’ve got younger players like we’ve got you can fill and get them by which we did once we lost the senior players within the squad.

“But with them highs come them lows and when you lose a little bit of confidence you don’t just fall a bit, you fall quite considerably and that’s about experience and learning.

“The most positive thing will be how much they’ve learned in these last four months about themselves and their own character, I think that was shown in the last two fixtures, they weren’t allowed to feel sorry for themselves, they had a job to do, they realised that job to do they stuck at it and got it done. 

“We won 19 and lost three for the first 22 then I think it started, we went to Bradford (Park Avenue) and got beat in the trophy, we should’ve won but that’s when the injury situation started and I think David Raven left the week after that, on the back of losing Miley, Winnard was injured,” the Marine boss recalled.

“Difficult times but we managed to work our way through it for a few weeks but football is about footballers and if you haven’t got them footballers at your disposal at that time, it becomes difficult but you have to make the best of what you can, that’s a skill in itself to try get the best out of your players.

“When you’ve got young players like we have it’s something new for them, it’s a learning experience and these lads are learning on the job, credit to them they’ve managed to get to where the football needed to be – it wasn’t easy. When you lose as many as we have over this season but I know how difficult it’s been for me as a manager to get a team or formation out on the pitch. 

“It’s been a tough season, as tough as I can remember. It was tough in the National League part time as Chester manager, I’ve had some tough times but it’s tough when you work as hard as you do then there’s not a lot you can do about it. Experience says to you that you’ve got to find a way.

“Football management isn’t just about Saturday-Tuesday-Thursday, if you do the job properly there’s so much more that you have to do, you have to work on the players, work on the players mentally, work on myself, the staff ultimately to get the best possible outcome that you can.

“Mentally for me it’s been tough, very challenging, there’s nothing more demoralising than when you leave training on a Thursday and by the time you kickoff Saturday you’ve lost three, four players and that was happening quite regularly with me.

“It becomes demoralising when the expectation’s to do something so you have to move your targets and come up with another plan of action which is what I’ve did.

“We’d been planning for the playoffs and anyone looks back at the Colwyn Bay promotion will see exactly the same blueprint – not entirely in terms of injuries but making sure once we were in there it was about making sure we had all the information on the teams we were playing and having our squad available to us, fit and ready to go as we could to give us more options and the best chance.”

With the playoff run in the balance, Marine bolstered their chances with a hard-earned win over Workington before losing to rivals Bootle, days later. In the following days, the club and league were rocked by news that they had been deducted three points for an incident in October.

The decision had been looming for a number of months and the outcome saw Marine slip from third to fifth.

Young revealed: “I knew it was potentially coming, I kept it all away from the players so I had to factor that into people saying ‘you need three more points to get into the playoffs’ but I knew we probably needed six.

“Sometimes I factored that into my thoughts as well which is not easy. It went on for far too long, how something can happen in October and still be getting dealt with in the last week of the season for me is incredible. But it’s just another curveball that you’re served with and you’ve got to deal with it.

“Again, not great but mistakes happen in life and you’ve got to deal with them, it hasn’t been done on purpose in any way shape or form. We just had to take it on and deal with it. 

“The highlight for me overall was how we found a way, how the boys came together and found a way under such difficult circumstances.

“No one’s going to take Workington away from us, always a difficult place to go, I thought the Workington games across the season were excellent, excellent games of football to watch at this level.

“Two very good teams going hammer and tong, I thought they were great games to be involved with. In a weird way, the Wrexham game I thought we were excellent against a team that had massive ambition and up until a despicable refereeing position – don’t get me wrong the lads hit is unbelievable – but we would’ve been in the first round again.”

*Interview conducted in May.

[Featured image: Karl Dunkerley]

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