Pic: Richard Parkes
MARK BURKE has told his Hitchin Town side to take a leaf out of Leamington’s book and put their play-off heartache behind them.
The Canaries were just minutes away from promotion in the Southern Premier play-off final before Leamington scored a late penalty. And a second for the Brakes in extra-time meant another season at Step 3 for Burke’s side.
But the boss is looking at the bright side with a number of big hitters in the division – and he wants to use Leamington for inspiration.
“We really enjoyed the day, it was a great occasion, with a massive crowd and two teams going for it,” Burke said.
“For 89 minutes it was really enjoyable. It was just the final bit where we couldn’t get over the line. We were disappointed.
“But the saving grace, while it’s going to be very difficult, is that I think this league is very attractive next season. The calibre of teams in it is great.
“Hereford and Farnborough are coming up – two massive clubs – then there’s Weymouth, Kettering and King’s Lynn, who are sleeping giants. Merthyr and Slough were up there last year, Basingstoke, Banbury, Dorchester – there are some big clubs, plus all our local derbies. So that softens the blow.
“It’s going to be more difficult than in previous seasons but we’ve retained the majority of the squad. One or two have been approached by other clubs and are weighing that up so that might mean a few more additions. But we weren’t far away.
“We’ve got a good group. When I took over they were 19, 20, 21 years old – now they’re 24 or 25. So it’s another year of experience and I’m hopeful they can draw on that to go one better.
“The hurt from losing the semi-final to Hungerford the previous season helped us beat Merthyr this time. I spoke to Leamington boss Paul Holleran and they’d lost in a previous final and used that to help them get up this time. If we can replicate that I will be more than happy.”
Burke’s side are repeating some of last year’s pre-season by laying on extra conditioning sessions where players are put through their paces by flipping tractor tyres and working with resistance belts.
“It’s a bit different from old school running,” Burke said. “Last season we got a fella called Dave Bass in to do some conditioning work with us. We saw the benefits throughout the season.
“The boys have got to have a break so they had May off and then we’ve been putting on optional conditioning sessions on a Monday since June 5. Not everyone’s done it, but it’s kept quite a few of them ticking over. Then we’re all back for full pre-season on June 26.
“We’re very lucky to have both Luton and Stevenage in friendlies on July 5 and July 8. So it’s also to make sure the boys have got fitness before we play them!”