Telford Titans have had a tough few months in NIHL North. After a summer which saw a number of players leave, they are yet to pick up a point in Moralee Conference. While all of their rivals have strengthened their squads, Titans have mainly been icing a batch of promising youngsters alongside a few senior players. C2C spoke to Head Coach Rob Blakemore to find out more.
C2C – Titans have done reasonably well in recent seasons – why are you struggling this year?
RB – After losing so many senior players at the start of the season we’ve been left with a very young squad – over half are 18 or under. We rely heavily on our juniors, with six playing regularly. Five of these are first year U18s, while we also have a number of first year seniors on the top two lines. When you start looking at the numbers in this way you can see why we’re struggling.
C2C – Have you been able to take any positives so far?
RB – I’m not saying the young lads don’t have talent, they do. We have some really great prospects, but I don’t have the option to play one or two with more experienced players where they’ll cope and can adjust to the speed in this league – it’s a tough learning curve.
C2C – NIHL North has improved in the last few years – do you realistically think you can compete?
RB – Everyone agrees the league is stronger again this year which makes it even more difficult. We’ve matched teams for short periods, particularly when we played Billingham at home, only losing by the odd goal, but it’s really difficult to get going. I’m sure a couple of wins would turn our season around and give the guys the confidence to compete regularly.
C2C – Your 35-1 loss at Solway ended up as a forfeit – what can you tell us about that?
RB – I’m disappointed with the league’s decision to forfeit the Solway game due to lack of players. I feel it diminishes the effort and guts the lads put in with such a short bench. To come back with silverware for the penalty shoot-out after that result was an absolute credit to the lads and I’d like to thank Solway for the opportunity.
C2C – Why did you bother fulfilling the fixture?
RB – It felt like we were being punished by the EIHA for putting in the effort and expense in travelling to ensure the game went ahead, rather than forfeiting and taking the fine. Ultimately it would have been cheaper for the club, especially when you factor in the cost of travel, but that’s not the way we do things in Telford. We’re resigned to this being a building year, one where our young squad gains valuable experience and ultimately comes out stronger ready to compete next season.
C2C – What are your thoughts on the new league structure?
RB – It really hasn’t changed. It’s still ENL1 & 2 but without promotion and relegation – which is good for us given our situation! There’s no doubt Moralee Conference is a stronger division with no easy games, while Laidler consists of the top four with a gap to the teams below them. In my opinion that hurts the top teams, as when you’re playing weaker teams you lose sharpness, which affects you when you’re playing the big games.
C2C – If things stay as they are will Titans remain in Moralee Conference?
RB – Personally I’d like to stay in the more competitive league next season and continue building the team but we’ll have to put it to the vote. The players may feel differently.
C2C – Will Wayne Scholes’ takeover of Telford Tigers help the Titans in any way?
RB – Firstly I’d like to say how pleased I am for the Tigers and their fans. They’ve had a tough few years at the bottom of the EPL, so to suddenly be in a strong financial position and be able to build the squad for the future is great for them and the league. Wayne and the Tigers’ management have asked to meet so we’ll have to see what comes out of that, but you can bet if the Tigers are successful it will pull in the crowds which should be good for all levels by attracting new juniors and maybe even players to us. I understand they also want to set up a junior academy which should also reap rewards in the long term.