O’Neill: Holleran is the right man to bring Brakes straight back up

Liam O'Neill, left, says Leamington would have been wrong to discount Paul Holleran's Southern League success.
Liam O'Neill, left, says Leamington would have been wrong to discount Paul Holleran's Southern League success.
  • Brakes manager’s Southern League experience will be crucial
  • O’Neill’s job is to instil confidence on relegated side
  • Work has already begun on building squad for promotion tilt

Assistant manager Liam O’Neill believes Paul Holleran is the only logical choice to lead Leamington back to the promised land of the Conference.

Speculation Holleran’s five-and-a-half year tenure was coming to an end was quickly quelled last week, with the board giving him the green light to continue next season ahead of the trip to Boston.

A goalless draw brought down the curtain on Brakes’ two-year stay in the Conference North, but despite taking them down, O’Neill says Holleran’s Southern League experience makes him the perfect candidate to oversee a quickfire return.

“What would you look for in a potential manager?,” said O’Neill. “Someone who had won the league, experienced the play-offs?

“If you saw Paul’s CV it does make sense.

“We didn’t deliberately get relegated.

“It’s not ideal but hopefully it’s a case of one step back, two steps forward.”

Holleran’s contacts list has been mined to the hilt this season, with seven different keepers among the raft of new faces brought in to the New Windmill.

And O’Neill says that the financial limitations imposed on the club by a cost-conscious board mean it is becoming harder than ever to compete in an ever-crowded market.

“The work the gaffer does every single day to improve the squad is beyond belief.

“From Milton Keynes to Gloucester in the Midlands area we are competing with the likes of Hemel, Worcester, Hednesford, Tamworth, Nuneaton and Solihull.

“We have great support and, as a player, that sometimes swayed it for me.

“But you look at these clubs and the money they’ve got and, in essence, a player can go there and double their money.”

O’Neill will again be alongside Holleran when Brakes resume in the Southern Premier League and the former Mansfield Town and Cheltenham Town striker says his first task will be to give the players the confidence to express themselves again.

“It’s alright when you’re winning leagues but it’s a test of character when things are going poorly.

“A lot of it is a Tim Sherwood thing.

“It’s all mental in this day and age.

“We’ve got to get the players to be more positive and get that belief back.

“We’ve got to give them a lot more confidence.

“{This season} we seemed to be always playing catch-up.

“We didn’t see the best of Jordan Goddard who spent a lot of time chasing back and facing his own goal.

“We need to give players the courage to get on the ball and have the courage to make a mistake.

“We have to instil belief in a squad that’s just been relegated.

“That will be my goal.”

A tearful O’Neill being consoled on the side of the pitch provided a poignant last act to Brakes’ relegation-confirming draw against North Ferriby.

But the former Bedworth United manager said it was the thought of having let down the club’s passionate support which brought on the waterworks.

“I was very emotional,” explained O’Neill. “I’ve never been relegated as a player, manager or assistant manager.

“But I was more gutted for the fans.

“Our supporters are brilliant. They’re absolutely devoted and they back us to the hilt.

“We couldn’t produce for them.

“I don’t want to be a failure but I feel like I’ve failed them.

“Myself and Paul have got a good relationship with the fans and we haven’t delivered for them this season - the league table doesn’t lie.”

Thoughts of taking time away from the game to recharge his batteries are a long way from his mind, however.

Plans were already in place to tie up the spine of next season’s squad ahead of the trip to Boston and O’Neill admits the club cannot afford to be left standing if they are to deliver on their target of an immediate Conference North return.

“We’re in the process of putting a list together already. We’ll make inroads from [last] Sunday, talking to non-contract players.

“It’s the most crucial part for us. We want to get quite a bit done by mid-May.

“You can’t really stop.

“It’s not a 42-week season.

“You turn your phone off for three days and you find out he’s moved and you’re like ‘how much did he go for?’

“This is the time to get the foundations right for next season.”