Stephen Hart____use

BACK ON THE JOB: Stephen Hart

Even over the phone, Trinidadian Stephen Hart’s good mood after returning to training is infectious.

The HFX Wanderers FC coach spoke to CanPL.ca reporter Charlie O’Connor-Clarke after his team returned to training on Monday, and it’s clear that things are, slowly, looking up in Nova Scotia.

Hart took up the role of both manger and head coach of the Wanderers for last year’s inaugural season of the Canadian Premier League after previously being head coach of both Canada and Trinidad and Tobago’s men national teams.

Hart recruited five Trinidadians for last year’s first season of Canadian football. Returning to HFX Wanderers are Trinidad and Tobago players Akeem Garcia and Andre Rampersad, while last year’s assistant, Derek King, is now T&T Under-20 coach. Veteran ‘keeper Jan Michael Williams has a new role as goalkeeper coach, while another veteran, 33-year-old utility player, Elton John, was not re-signed this season.

“It was very nice to get back out there. It took a fair bit of planning because we can only work with four players at a time, so it was quite a long time on the pitch,” Hart said. “But everybody’s just happy to be back out there and feeling the ball again, getting used to the turf and all of that.”

Two of the CPL’s clubs, with Pacific FC joining HFX on Monday, are now back out on the pitch after the lengthy shutdown due to Covid-19. Of course, it’s not necessarily the typical start to a return to training --and not just because they already did that, three months ago.

Hart estimates that seven players from the Wanderers squad will have to self-quarantine upon arriving in Halifax before they can train, and that two players and one member of the coaching staff abroad are still affected by travel restrictions.

Still, getting back on the pitch at all is a relief. Although the club had managed to dip into some team-based tactical training in their initial pre-season, Hart explained that it’s back to square one now. They spent most of day one assessing the players’ fitness levels, to see if all those Zoom workouts really did work.

From a fitness point of view, Hart is impressed with the shape his players have maintained through the last few months of shutdown.

“I think the at-home workouts helped a lot,” he said. “We haven’t done the weight of players or anything as of yet, but just from my eye everybody looks in decent shape. Nobody’s overweight or anything — except the coaching staff.”

Jokes aside, the Wanderers are looking pretty good, according to Hart. Of course, being unable to do much on the ball or make proper passes for weeks might have taken some of the edge off of the players’ sharpness and agility.

“It’s just the little difference in how they move,” Hart admitted. “The little movement exercises that we were doing was a little bit different, but overall I think we’re at a good level.”

Again, these early days of training won’t be ideal, with large-scale team workouts still restricted until the club gets the green light. It’s also a little strange for the HFX players and staff to prepare for matches, when they’re not quite sure when exactly those might happen.

“There’s a plan in place as to how we’ll gradually move towards that,” Hart explained about returning to full-team workouts. “I think right now for all of us it’s just to see how this first return to training segment goes, and all the precautions, all the testing that goes with it. Then gradually we take things as they come.”

He added: “Right now I’m just like the players, I’m just excited we’re back outside and we’re training. It gives us hope that something will be done pretty soon in terms of getting games.”

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