The rainclouds surrounded Maiden Castle and a thin layer of drizzle covered the Hartlepool United players as they sauntered out on to the training pitch for their second session of pre-season.

The clouds could be used as a convenient metaphor for the mood that surrounded the club in the aftermath of their relegation from the Football League.

But there was no hint of any gloom and doom on their faces. 

No stresses or strains after their initial session on Monday morning.

One-by-one the players crept over towards the training pitches, led by coaching staff a number of coaches and new manager Craig Harrison.

And as he prepared to oversee training new Pools boss Harrison insisted that the mood was changing for the better.

The former TNS manager has held talks with the players that were part of the club’s first relegation out of the Football League in over a century.

Those talks have been productive and Harrison assured supporters that the players, new and old, are ready to take responsibility and are “determined” to get the North East club back into the Football League as soon as possible.

Harrison said “There is always going to be a little bit because there are seven or eight players here but these players are good players, there have been Football League players.

“The important thing is the good feeling about the place.  They feel responsible, they want to get the club back into the Football League as soon as possible, which is good.

“The players that were involved owe it to the football club to give it their best, to get the club back.

“The players that have come in have given a bit of freshness.  We haven’t got twenty two players that were involved last season, we probably have half and half and it’s something that takes the edge off for a little bit.

“But the ones coming back from the relegation are determined to get the club back in the Football League”

donaldson 235Harrison has been hard at work since he was appointed as Pools boss.

As well as convincing a number of key players to stay at the club, he has also completed a number of new signings.

Midfielders Jack Munns and Ryan Donaldson (left) joined from Cheltenham Town and Plymouth Argyle respectively, whilst Guiseley striker Jake Cassidy was reunited with his former Airbus UK Broughton manager.

Former Notts County and Cambridge United defender Blair Adams became the sixth new signing of the summer over the weekend and becomes the first new addition to join without experience of playing in the National League.

Harrison stressed that, although experience in non-league’s top tier is preferable, he is eager to bring in players that can cope with the expectations at Victoria Park.

The former Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace defender explained “It was important but another thing that was key was winning football games”

“We will be one of the favourites to win the National League and I think it’s important that we all have a mentality about how to win football games.

“Managing expectations and handling expectations is something I had at TNS.

“I was expected to win every game and if we drew a game it was like getting beat so it’s good for me and now it’s just making sure that the players understand we are one of the big boys in the league and we will be expected to win every game.

“We just have to expect it, embrace it and run with it.  There’s no point hiding from it and hiding behind things or downplaying them.

“It’s the facts, it’s real life, we will be one of the fancied teams in the league and we have to embrace it or we won’t be successful”

There have already been a number of departures from Hartlepool this summer.

Goalkeeper Trevor Carson joined SPL club Motherwell and Lewis Alessandra completed a move to Notts County.

Winger Nathan Thomas also departed, making a move SkyBet Championship club Sheffield United for an undisclosed fee.

All of those departures were completed before Harrison’s appointment.

Striker Padraig Amond (right) remains, despite transfer speculation linking him with a move to National League rivals Tranmere Rovers.amond

Harrison is keen to keep the former Morecambe striker and revealed that he will do “everything he can” to keep him.

“Nothing has changed with Podge, nothing has changed”

“I’ve had a good conversation with him and spoken four or five times.  Twice we have spoken face-to-face and I am going to do everything I can to keep him, the club will do everything to keep him and that’s it really.

“If we get an offer then that is something we have to look at.  Is the offer good enough to replace him with the same quality?  It’s just common sense and common business sense.

“If we don’t have a good enough replacement then we don’t let the one go.  That’s going to be it, that’s the way it is.  He has a year left on his contract and I’ll be doing everything as a manager to keep hold of him”

On the prospect of letting Amond join another National League club Harrison commented “Ideally not, ideally not.  But again we are in control.

“He has a year left on his contract and I don’t want to speak for the lad himself.  We have had good conversations but if anything, why would you not want to give it a chance of getting Hartlepool United back into the Football League rather than Tranmere?

“That’s not speaking for him, I can’t speak for anyone else but that would be my thoughts”

As well as working hard to strengthen his playing squad, Harrison has also made two key appointments to his backroom staff.

Former Bayern Munich and Stockport County keeper Bernhard Hirmer was named as the club’s goalkeeper coach on Monday afternoon.

Hours after Hirmer’s appointment was confirmed, Harrison named Matthew Bates as his new first team coach.

Bates was placed in temporary charge of Pools for the final two games of last season.

During that short spell he oversaw a 1-0 defeat at Cheltenham Town and a 2-1 win against Doncaster Rovers on the last day of the season.

bates 235That win gave Hartlepool a chance of staying in the Football League, only to see their hopes dashed as Newport County snatched a late winner against Notts County to condemn Pools to the drop.

Bates (left) will now remain at the club in his new role and Harrison admitted that the former Middlesbrough defender had been an invaluable source of information as he got to know the Pools squad.

“He has been brilliant since I have come in.  He’s given me a fair and honest assessment of players, which has been key.  I needed to know what I had.

“You have all of the technology to watch players but you don’t know the character of the players, you don’t know what they are like so Batesy was key.

“He is really enthusiastic, he wants to learn, to become a coach, to become a manager in years to come.

“He understands that there are stepping stones towards that and is really keen to put them in place.

“For me it was a good, positive appointment and someone who can bounce between myself and the players.  He knows the dressing room having been in there for two years as a player and you look at their reaction, the players clearly have respect for him because of the reaction in the Doncaster game”

One vacancy that remains is that of Harrison’s assistant manager.

He confirmed that he has a target in mind but revealed that they are currently with another club.

“We just have to be respectful on that one because the person I want to come is with a club so that is why not much has been said about it.

“I know there is frustration but we have to be respectful”

Interview: Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily)
Main Image: Hartlepool United
Other Images: Reuters Media

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