Gareth Walker reflects on Barrow Raiders’ promotion campaign with coach Paul Crarey
Paul Crarey is more than happy to sit back and watch the Betfred League 1 play-offs unfold.
The last time his Barrow side earned promotion from the third tier in 2017, it was via a tense final against Cumbrian rivals Whitehaven.
This time the Raiders took the direct route by finishing top – allowing experienced coach Crarey to look back on an eventful season with pride.
“It’s probably the hardest year I’ve had mentally,” Crarey said.
“Not knowing who you would be dealing with, from one session to the next in terms of numbers with Covid, was tough.
“We were flying until Keighley away – the first warning was Luke Cresswell pulling out that morning.
“We went to training on Tuesday and had a few more, and ended up with 16 with it at one time.
“We had to call off the game at Workington away because so many were isolating.
“The club was shut down for ten days, and that month we trained three times, which had a bad effect on the group in terms of how we were playing, what we were producing and our fitness.
“But all the lads have put in a shift.
“Before Covid we’d finish training at 8pm and the travelling lads could be home for 9.30pm. But with the testing some of them have been back at 11.30pm before going to work the next day.
“It’s just been tough, but the lads have been pulling it out on game day.
“Every single club at every level has gone through it, and I take my hat off to everyone involved in League 1; it’s been a great advert for Rugby League.
“The last time we went up through the play-offs it was horrendous; we played Whitehaven in front of a big crowd, but we were battered and busted and just about got through it.
“With what’s gone on with all our injuries and everything else this year, I’m glad just to be out of it and watch everybody else fight for the second place.
“We’ve had a great season – everyone said we had a good squad, but we had eleven or twelve local lads in the team that won at Rochdale, some of whom have come through our Academy.
“Everyone has had their challenges, but we came out with the best attack and defence in the division with a predominantly local side.
“Those lads stepped up when Jordan and Adam Walne were out, and when Hakim Miloudi missed ten weeks with a dislocated wrist.
“Everything we tried to do during the season seemed to turn sour, but our local lads put in a massive stint, and without our Academy being in place that wouldn’t have been possible.”
Asked about the youngsters that have shone, Crarey responded: “Tom Hopkins has been sensational in only his second year, and Mark Tyson, who was at Askam and Egremont and knocked on my door asking for an opportunity.
“There’s been Charlie Emslie, Jake Carter, Ryan Johnston.
“Jarrad Stack and Carl Forster have also been immense.
“Carl did four 80-minute stints at the end of the season, and gave everything he could for the club. He dropped a lot of weight and became a real ball-playing prop for us.”
Crarey cites a 12-man home win over Doncaster and a crucial victory at Rochdale as season highlights, praised assistant Steve Rea and his whole backroom staff and thanked well wishers for the mountain of messages he has had since earning promotion.
But he says the most pleasing thing has been the overall development of the club under Chairman Steve Neale.
“We had 2,000 in to watch against West Wales and we haven’t dipped below 1,500 all year,” Crarey said.
“The Academy has been set up, the community programmes have grown massively in all areas, and the proper fans know how far we’ve come since the club had £7 in the bank and it nearly shut down.
“We’ve stood by it through the tough times and that makes it so much sweeter when the title came through.
“They say that adversity makes you stronger and it certainly does.
“There’s a bit of pressure on you when you’re tagged as favourites from day one, but we’ve been up there since the start, lost the top spot for maybe two weeks and then got it back and never let it go.
“It’s a massive achievement, and I’m especially pleased for Steve Neale, who got right behind us after we got relegated, which was a difficult time.”
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