After back-to-back thirteenth place finishes in the North West Counties Premier Division Michael Dodd and his Irlam side will be hoping some more luck in the new campaign.
Dodd was a coach at The Ambitek Stadium for three years prior to becoming their manager in 2017, and reflected on the 2018/19 campaign, "We’re disappointed with our League position last year, as we don’t feel like it reflected the quality of the squad that we had. However, we had a brilliant FA Cup run and we had an even better FA Vase run, which did act as a bit of a distraction from the League. Even though we try and ensure that it’s not a distraction, I think it definitely is. We were only three games from Wembley and the lads were starting to dream of that scenario. The League games subconsciously became a bit of a warm-up almost for the FA Vase games, which were great but I think that’s what happened.
"When we went out of the FA Vase, we did suffer a little bit of a lull with our League form. We found ourselves mid-table with no danger of relegation and no chance of promotion and we dwindled towards the end. I’m not saying we want to go out of the Cups this year but I think there is a bigger focus on that League position and moving up from the middle group of clubs in the division into the top group of clubs in the division.
"You can say now which clubs will be in and around the top five or six positions – or which clubs are usually in those spots – and we want to become one of those top clubs. That’s our aim and if that brings us close to a promotion spot then so be it but our aim is to move the club into that top bracket of teams in the division."
With three promotion spots up for grabs, Dodd agrees that competition is the NWCFL top flight will be fierce, "Yes, definitely because what we’re thinking now is what every other single manager and team are also thinking. That is, they have a good season this year as the chances are there for them to go up. Every team will be looking to give that extra push and not everyone can finish in the top three positions. Someone’s going to be at the top and some teams are going to be near the bottom who were probably speaking exactly like we are now, saying they’re in with a chance of going up.
"Every point is valuable and you’ve got to pick up points wherever you can. We’ve established ourselves as a Premier Division club so really the next step for us is to have a team that now competes at the top of the Premier Division rather than just sitting in mid-table again for another season."
"We are six sessions into the pre-season and our friendlies start on Tuesday at home against Glossop, which will be a good test for us. We’ve retained the majority of players from last year’s playing squad, which is really important. I think retaining players probably shows more than signing new players because it shows that the players you have had over a full season are willing to commit to that again. They’ve enjoyed what you’ve done and they’re willing to commit to that again. If you retain players it shows that you are doing things right.
"Two or three players most seasons leave, which has been the case, and two or three – possibly more – will come in and we’ve had those players in with us, training already. We look good to go, as far as I’m concerned. I’m happy with the squad as it stands. Every manager up and down the League will tell you that they’d like one or two more players in the squad or another player in a certain position and we’re no different there but on the whole, we’re really happy with the group that we’ve got."