Sean Long says he turned down coaching opportunities in Super League and the Championship to lead Oldham’s revival under Mike Ford: and insists he has long since got over his short-lived stint at Featherstone Rovers as he prepares to restart his coaching career this weekend.
Long has been tasked with spearheading Oldham’s ambitious plans for a bright future, with promising the club are set to ‘go places’ after an eye-catching winter of recruitment that has led many tipping the club to be clear favourites for promotion from League 1 in 2024.
Big names including Joe Wardle, Jordan Turner, Craig Kopczak and Jamie Ellis have signed up, with promising Wigan youngster Logan Astley and Championship mainstay Danny Craven also among those agreed to sign at Boundary Park.
Some questioned whether Long’s coaching career was perhaps over after his ill-fated stint at Featherstone.
Long was sacked barely six months into the job with Rovers top of the league and while they finished at the Championship summit, they fell short in the play-offs after defeat at home to London Broncos.
But he insists he has not been scarred by his first head coaching role, and said the opportunity to return to the game with Oldham was one he felt enthused by – turning down other offers from higher divisions in the process.
“It was fine, that’s rugby league isn’t it,” when asked if he was hurt by how his time at Featherstone played out. “Anything can happen in sport, one minute you’re in a job, the next you’re not. It didn’t impact me at all.
“I like challenging myself and with the vision what Mike (Ford) has got, across the whole club, it really appealed to me.”
Sean Long: ‘The long-term ambitions of the club are big, but we’re not getting carried away’
Long admits he is joining a club currently ‘in the doldrums’ after Oldham fell short in last year’s League 1 play-offs at the hands of North Wales Crusaders. But he says the long-term plans Ford has for Oldham is what convinced him this was the right project.
He said: “The long-term ambitions of the club are big. We’re not getting carried away as a club but there’s some stability here, do you know what I mean? I’ve signed a three-year contract and it’s run well as a club and Oldham has been in the doldrums for a bit, if we’re being honest. But we want to bring the fanbase back and get them behind us because it’s a proper rugby town.
“It’s good we’re back at Boundary Park, it’s a really good facility and with the fans being in and around that area, we can get it rocking again I hope.
“We’re not counting our chickens, things can happen in rugby league which you aren’t prepared for but I’ve said to the lads that League 1 is a tough competition, there’s some really good players in there. If you don’t respect them, you can get caught out. Our goal is to keep our standards high every week and that’s basically my job.”
Long also admitted part of his remit as Oldham coach is to help nurture the coaching careers of his senior players – with him already working closely with the likes of Wardle and Turner.
“I’m my own coach, and I’m going to do things a different way,” he said. “Being the head coach is good, but we’re a new team because there’s lads come from Leeds, Saints, Wigan… Joe is from Leigh and Jordan Turner has come from Castleford so we’re a brand new team.
“That’s the challenge that appealed to me, putting all these different lads into our system, and I really enjoy it. Jordan always said he wanted to play for Oldham, he’s coming to the back end of his career and he’s jumped at the chance. I’m helping lads like Joe and Jordan to become coaches, and training them up.”
Challenge Cup winner Joe Wardle has no qualms about dropping down two divisions with ambitious Oldham
Wardle is one of the biggest recruits made by Oldham in the off-season, and he said he had no qualms about dropping down two divisions after spending last season as part of Leigh’s squad that lifted the Challenge Cup at Wembley.
He said: “Everyone asks about me moving two leagues below but now with the IMG system you know if you get things right you can be back in Super League, and that’s the long-term plan.
“I can see the vision of the club and it was a pretty easy decision. I’m there at the start of the journey and hopefully it’ll be a successful one.
“Oldham has achieved a lot in the history of rugby, and produced so many good players. It’s a hotbed of rugby league and if we can keep some of those players who have moved on to succeed at other clubs, we might not be in the place we are.”