SPECIAL REPORT, Part One: Giving up the gloves proved to be a good call for St Ives Town assistant boss Jack Cassidy

St Ives Town assistant manager Jack Cassidy. Picture: HELEN DRAKE

St Ives Town assistant manager Jack Cassidy. Picture: HELEN DRAKE - Credit: Archant

Jack Cassidy is a man who made a big decision at a young age.

St Ives Town FC v Rushden & Diamonds,

St Ives Town FC v Rushden & Diamonds, - Credit: Archant

At a time when the careers of most budding footballers are still in their infancy, the St Ives Town assistant manager called time on his playing days.

Cassidy, a goalkeeper for then United Counties League Division One club Wootton Blue Cross, opted to hang up the gloves and chase his coaching dream. It’s a choice which has worked out rather well.

“I started coaching when I was in sixth form,” recalls Cassidy, who holds the UEFA B licence. “And I then did my Level 1 badge while playing locally in Bedford.

“I came to a crossroads when I was doing a coaching and teaching role at Histon during the week while playing at weekends.

“Brian Page, who was in charge of the youth set-up at Histon, got promoted to manage the first team and gave me the chance to observe coaching at Conference North level.

“I knew deep down that Step 6 was the highest I would ever play at whereas coaching could take me much further in the game.

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“I learned a lot over the years at Histon. Being a fly on the wall at such a good level was invaluable experience for me.”

Cassidy didn’t just gain an insight into coaching at a good level at Histon – it is also where he met Ricky Marheineke.

The two men quickly realised they possessed similar beliefs which they have put into practice since Marheineke’s appointment as Saints manager - and Cassidy’s decision to follow him to ProEdge Westwood Road - in the summer of 2014.

He added: “It got to the point at Histon where I was starting to formulate my own ideas on the game. They were different to those of the manager there and I found myself coaching things that I didn’t believe in, whereas myself and Rick had the same beliefs.

“When I was offered the chance to come to St Ives and develop my own players, I had to take it. I knew I would be taking myself out of the comfort zone to try to get older lads buying into what I want them to do.

“I deliver Ricky’s messages and methods through the training, and that is a challenge I’ve relished.

“Ultimately it has paid off and I would like to think that I’ve built up a good relationship with the lads.”

It certainly hasn’t all been plain sailing, though. Marheineke and Cassidy had to overhaul the squad they inherited from predecessors, Jez Hall and Warren Everdell, to lay the foundations for future success.

They finished ninth in Southern League Division One (Central) in their first season at the helm before Saints reached the play-offs by occupying fifth last term.

And they ensured a fine campaign came complete with a perfect finish by securing promotion with a 2-1 extra-time triumph against AFC Rushden & Diamonds in a play-off final played out in front of more than 1,500 fans at ProEdge Westwood Road in early May.

“The way myself and Ricky like to play is by keeping clean sheets,” continued Cassidy. “Conceding 50 goals by the November of our first season showed we weren’t getting buy-in from the players.

“We knew we had to make changes to improve the standard of the squad and things went from there.

“We set little targets to break down last season and it worked for us as we secured the play-off place that had been our target from day one.

“I haven’t got married or had kids yet so I can safely say it was the best day of my life to win promotion.

“The actual 120 minutes were the worst I’ve experienced in football. I did not enjoy the occasion at all while the game was going on.

“But we executed our gameplan superbly and I was absolutely gutted when we fell behind with a few minutes to go. My emotion came pouring out when we equalised and it was then great to see us go ahead in the first period of extra-time.

“The second period was the longest 15 minutes of my life, but we kept our lead to get promoted. I don’t mind admitting I had a bit of a tear in my eye as we were celebrating.

“Now the challenge is to establish ourselves at Step 3. The increase in quality is high and surviving at that level would be a big achievement.”