By Matt Badcock
Liam McDonald expects the new Step 3 Central division to be a Non-League melting pot – and he wants his Rushall Olympic to show they can handle it.
The Pics boss, 34, took over last season soon after he left his post at National League Solihull Moors.
Struggling at the time, they finished the season strongly and McDonald wants more of the same when the new season kicks off. Their pre-season campaign began with a 2-1 win against League One side Walsall with McDonald pleased at the buzz around the club.
Next season will see plenty of trips into the unknown with the new division made up of clubs from all three Step 3 leagues – Southern, Northern Premier League and Isthmian.
McDonald, inset right, has managed in both the NPL with Hednesford and the Southern with Redditch and can’t wait for the challenge.
“We’re going into the unknown and we’re going to be one of the smallest ones in it,” he told The NLP. “We know that but we want to try and punch above our weight like we did last season. If we can do that again, have a bit of luck along the way, and can better what we did last season we will be delighted with that.
“There aren’t a lot of managers who have managed in both of the leagues (Northern Premier League and Southern League). Where we are we’re bang in the middle of it so we’ve had experience in the Southern, and did well.
“The NPL is a harder league, in my opinion, but we did alright in there too. You get different styles of football so it’s going to be a great mix and will be set for a great league.
“The Bostik teams we’ve not played before so that’s going to be a new experience. I don’t know what their league was about. If you look at the Southern League, people will say they liked to play football and the Northern Premier is big and strong. Then with the Bostik you’re going to get three cultures in one league – it’s going to be interesting.
“I think the teams that adapt best and have a little bit of everything will probably be the most successful in it.
“We’ve got a bit of experience in two of the leagues so hopefully that can stand us in good stead with the information we give to the players and how we set up to play.”
After leaving Solihull last October, McDonald admits he wasn’t looking to immediately jump back into a hot-seat only for Rushall chairman John Allen – a successful manager in his own right – to persuade him otherwise.
He says it was the best decision he’s made with a Walsall Senior Cup win capping a season of personal highs and lows. But McDonald feels he’s a better manager than this time last season.
“This is my seventh season as a manager so it’s not long,” adds McDonald, who says Allen is the best chairman in the game. “I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, worked in different environments, from the top of Non-League to Step 3 and there’s a difference.
“The way I think changes from the experiences I had at Solihull – especially from going there and knowing we were fighting to stay up. You have different pressures and different thoughts about how to set up. My staff would say the same thing, the experiences we’ve had in such a short time have definitely helped us.
“You get better from experiences so we want to use all of that now.
“I’m a young manager and not been in the game long but in the years I have had, I’ve had to overcome things. Using and call on those past experiences helps you become a better person and manager.”
McDonald’s own learning process is also aided by closely watching those around him.
“I look at local managers,” he said. “People like Gary Hackett at Stourbridge, Paul Holleran at Leamington – people who have been in the game a long time. You always look to take little bits from them because they’ve been successful.
“Marcus Law at Kettering too. I’m unbeaten against him as a manager! But he’s the best manager I’ve ever played for. I look up to him a lot.
“It’s funny when we come up against them because he still sees me as the player he used to have. In the dug-out with me is Nick Green who was our captain at Barwell, so it’s funny to go up against him.
“I take a lot from managers like him at this level who are successful in different ways. I take bits from Alvechurch’s Ian Long.
“He’s been one of the best local managers over the last few years. You look at them and accumulate things from them you want. It’s great we’re all going to be in one league.”
This article originally featured in The @NonLeaguePaper which is available every Sunday and Monday
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