Newport County AFC assistant manager Wayne Hatswell says he is pleased with the players' efforts after they returned to pre-season training this week.
The Exiles have been out of Sky Bet League Two action since the clash against Carlisle United in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, which brought the 2019/20 season to an end.
Michael Flynn's men were assigned individual programmes to follow over the last few months before they returned to training on Monday morning for the first time in more than 20 weeks.
They have trained in small groups in line with the EFL’s Return to Training Protocol and UK Government guidelines on social distancing, and Hatswell says he has been impressed with how the Exiles have adapted to the conditions during these unprecedented times.
"It’s a bit strange to be coming back in August but it is what it is," said Hatswell.
"We’ve just got to make the most of the time off that we’ve had off. It’s been a chance for us to reflect as individuals and as a team. We want to get the boys as fit as we possibly can in preparation for the start of the season in September. They all know it’s going to be tough but they’ve come back in pretty good nick and we want to keep everyone safe. That’s the main thing.
"They’ve had programmes for the months that they’ve been off, but at some point they needed a break as well which was important. There were no gyms open so that’s another thing that they’ve had to battle. The sessions are a bit different for us because we’ve got smaller groups and there’s no contact at the moment.
"As a coach it’s been different but it’s a period that I’ve had a long time to prepare for. I’m chuffed with the players and the way they’ve come back."
County have just over five weeks to prepare for the 2020/21 campaign after the EFL confirmed the season will get underway on the weekend of Saturday 12th September.
The regular league season will then conclude on the second weekend of May 2021, ensuring there will be a busy fixture list for the Exiles when it's released over the coming weeks.
But Hatswell said the coaching staff have been preparing throughouly for the new campaign.
"We’re probably going to have two games a week near enough, so we’re going to have to look after the players," Hatswell added.
"We focused on that a lot in yesterday’s meeting. It’s going to be a long season but they are normally anyway and it’s never easy. We’ve just got to make sure that what we do now benefits us in six weeks’ time and beyond that as well. That’s the whole point of pre-season.
"We’ve got a plan in our heads and when the fixtures are released, we can start looking into different things. But at the moment we’re focused on looking after the players here and making sure they’re ready to go."
Hatswell also reserved special praise for the Exiles' supporters, who he is excited to see return to Rodney Parade when it is safe to do so.
"It will be good to see them back at Rodney Parade. We’ve got a good nucleus of fans and we are going to miss them.
"Hopefully that gets sorted soon and we can get them back in the building to cheer us on."