HELSTON Athletic manager Steve Massey has hailed the "unique" pre-season training period that his side has undergone over the past few weeks.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which forced an early end to the football season in mid-March, has meant that clubs have been unable to begin pre-season training together as normal.

Clubs would normally have returned to training in June ahead of the new season, but with Government guidelines restricting exercise to take place in groups of no more than six people with social distancing in place, Helston have opted to go down a different route.

With the Blues’ squad based across Cornwall and Devon, Massey has split his squad into four ‘pods’ across the south west, with pods of players in Helston, Truro, St Austell and Exeter.

Assistant manager Glynn Hooper and defender Damon Mulready have led sessions for players in St Austell with Mulready also working with the Helston group.

Massey himself has travelled up to Exeter and Barnstaple to train with his Devon-based players, while also sharing weekend duties with coach Martyn Daughtery in Truro and Helston, with coaches Gary Stevens and Daniel Bua also taking sessions locally.

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Mulready also led fitness sessions with the whole squad via Zoom earlier on in the lockdown, while the small group sessions are focused on footwork and technical exercises with the ball.

Massey also enlisted his nephew Craig, who works as head coach at Opex gym in Manchester, to deliver a talk on nutrition, diet and lifestyle to his squad via Zoom and set each player a fitness schedule during lockdown.

“For me certainly it’s been nothing like I’ve ever experienced in my 47 years in pro and semi-pro football,” Massey said. “This is certainly the most unique pre-season training that I’ve ever been associated with.

“It does stretch your imagination and I think it’s made us better, I really do, and I’ve been loving it.”

Although the squad has been unable to meet as one since their final game of the 2019/20 season at home to Callington Town – in which the Blues won 2-1 – on March 11, Massey believes the spirit among the players has not waned, with regular Zoom meeting and the group chats allowing everyone to stay in contact.

The team spirit of the squad, which is set to reunite in full for the first time since that Callington game at a social event on Monday, will be a big factor as they bid to complete the job they began last season and win the South West Peninsula League Premier West.

The Blues were top of the table and enjoying a 24-game winning run before the season was suspended and later declared null and void, but Massey is quietly confident that this can be achieved again with what he believes is his best-ever squad.

“I can honestly say it’s probably the best squad of players I’ve ever assembled, to be perfectly honest, and I’m really excited about it,” he said.

“I know for a fact that we’ll get really tested, we’ll have to be really at our best. Bodmin, the St Blazeys, the guys are talking about it that they’ve recruited well, but we feel that there’s a quiet confidence, particularly with what we did last year, and we just want to take that on again next year.”

Massey also stated his desire for his team to pick up where they left off at the end of last season and extend their 24-game winning run, which was a club and league record until the season was voided and all results were expunged.

He said: “I know it’s null and void and 24 [wins in a row] but as far as we’re concerned, we’re going for 25 and in our dressing room and at our club that [run] will continue.”