BUCKLAND Athletic Head Coach Dan Hart says he has ‘enjoyed every single minute’ of his first season in charge.
Hart, who joined Buckland from South West Peninsula League Premier West outfit Launceston back in April 2022, guided his side to a fifth-place finish in the Western League this season, winning 22 matches and finishing a solitary point off the top four.
'This season as a whole has been another great learning curve for me,’ said the former Plymouth Argyle scholar.
'As a young manager, being part of such a big and ambitious club is a great feeling for me – I have to reflect on the belief that this club has shown in me, which is never-ending, and I’ve enjoyed every single minute of working with this group so far. Our work started very early; back in April  towards the end of last season and it has paid off.’
Buckland is a club brimming with ambition. The team were aiming for a top-six finish this season and are hoping to mount an assault on the title come August.
'We have achieved – and slightly bettered – our ambition for the season to finish in the top six, and now it is about the real work,’ said the dogged 29-year-old.
'I would never want to fall short of winning leagues and titles; that’s what I’ve done in my playing career and that’s what I want to achieve as soon as physically possible in a coaching capacity.
'Everything from this season has been learning. We’ve tried all sorts of systems, all sorts of structures, all sorts of personnel and we have learnt a lot along the way. There have been some great moments and some bad ones but we’re just keen to kick on with next season now.’
The Bucks reached the last-32 of the FA Vase with wins over Cullompton Rangers and Laverstock and Ford before eventually bowing out to defeat at the hands of Ascot United, who have gone on to reach the final against Newport Pagnell Town, the winners of last season’s competition and the club that knocked Buckland out on penalties in that triumphant campaign.
'The Helston performance where we beat them at home, 4-0 [in the league], was good,’ Hart said, having taken a moment to think about his favourite matches of the season. 'We showed all of our qualities; devastating on the break, pace in attack and lots of good moments in front of goal. Everything went our way that day.
'Away from home, we played a Cadbury Heath team who were on the up at that stage and Josh Webber scored two in the 90th minute to win us the game, and that was a great feeling.’
Ahead of what promises to be an exciting season at Homers Heath, the Bucks have contracted a number of players to secure their services in the bid for the Western League title. Ryan Bush, Andy Collings, Sam Morcom, Cieran Bridger and Jared Lewington have all committed to Hart’s vision in recent months.
'Our players need to maximise their potential on and off the pitch,’ Hart said. 'We’re a non-league club and non-league players need to be as committed away from the pitch as we are as coaches and show that desire to improve day-in, day-out when they get the time away from their work and jobs. That commitment is the very slender difference between where we are and where Mousehole find themselves at the top of the tree.
'It’s not necessarily ability – we have plenty of that in the dressing room – but it is about that desire and commitment to continue to improve and find your best performances when the tough periods come and certainly away from home, where I think we have been less successful.’
Hart's Grade: B
'We’ve achieved our goal in terms of league place and done well in the cups without winning one,’ Hart explained, 'so I’ll give it a strong B.
'But obviously, only A+ is good enough, and I’m really eager to get cracking with all of the planning that is necessary to put together a group that really makes a mark on this league next year.
'It has been a fantastic season for the whole league this year; I think this division is really strong with some great sides and some great locations to play football but I would like to sit at the top of that tree.’