When Sheffield Spartans were forced to quit NIHL North Moralee D1 it left numerous long-serving players wondering what the future would hold.
Spartans’ captain Ollie Barron was arguably the most well-known of that group, having represented his home city from U10 through to senior level.
When Scott McKenzie left his role as Player/Coach at Widnes Wild, Barron was approached and quickly agreed a deal to take over the Laidler D2 team.
Barron has led Wild to the top of the table with four wins out of four, but admits he didn’t think he’d ever play anywhere but Sheffield.
“When the news broke that the Spartans were folding it was a big shock and then the reality hit of where I could continue playing,” said Barron.
“I did have a number of good offers from various clubs to sign as a player, but the offer from Widnes to join as a player/coach was one that excited me and gave me a fresh challenge.
“I was keen to get into coaching as it offers the opportunity to stay in the game after I finish playing and it helped that Widnes are an ambitious club with good support staff.
“I’ve always been an outspoken player in the dressing room – I guess that comes from my previous role as team captain – so I felt comfortable making the switch.
“Being player/coach is more challenging than I expected – managing the team, making vital decisions, planning practices and implementing playing systems all while trying to play is tricky.
“However, my team manager and assistant coach are a great help and it’s a role I’m enjoying adjusting to.”
When Barron took over at Widnes several key players from the previous season had just left, but the core of the team remained.
He boosted the squad by signing some of his former teammates including his brother Will, Nick Manning and Stuart Brittle.
“I’m happy with the squad at present – I was wary of bring a lot of new faces into the group but the core of last season’s team have been great and I like the feel of the changing room,” added Barron.
“We have a good mix, but I can’t rule out bringing in extra players. If I have the chance to improve our squad I will do so, as I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t explore the possibilities of bringing in new players that can improve our team.
“When I took over as coach it was made clear to me that my job was to gain promotion to D1. I feel we have a strong squad capable of this, but that is easier said than done.
“It takes commitment from every member of the squad and it’s our goal to achieve. I expect us to be challenging for top spot – that’s my aim.”
(Image permission: Geoff White)