A YEAR ago, Grant McCann was stepping into the boots of a manager who had left of his own volition.
Said manager had also performed well at a club who, if the bookmakers were to be believed, now had little chance of prospering under the Northern Irishman.
For Doncaster Rovers 12 months ago, read Hull City today. McCann, who succeeded Nigel Adkins in June, is looking to make a similar impact to the one at the Keepmoat Stadium that made a mockery of odds that suggested Rovers were in for a season of struggle rather than a push for promotion.
“Everyone has written us off before a ball has been kicked,” the 39-year-old told The Yorkshire Post as the countdown continues towards Saturday’s opening day trip to Swansea City.
“But I love that. It brings a siege mentality and I want that at Hull City. Our target is to prove people wrong.”
McCann and his Doncaster side certainly did that last term. Just five clubs were priced at longer odds than Rovers to win promotion and yet the south Yorkshire club spent most of the campaign in the top six.
The belief kicks in with results and that then spreads to the fans. I want my teams to play with that belief. I believe in the boys and they need to believe in themselves.Hull City chief Grant McCann
Charlton Athletic went on to prevail in the play-offs to earn a return to the Championship. But only after being taken all the way by Doncaster in a quite breathtaking semi-final second leg that saw the Yorkshire club only bow out on penalties.
McCann’s side even led on aggregate for a brief period in extra-time only for a slip by goalkeeper Marko Marosi to allow Darren Pratley to equalise from close range and ensure the lottery of spot-kicks came into play.
A fortnight or so later and Lee Bowyer’s men were celebrating promotion at Wembley to underline the slim margin that often exists between success and failure.
McCann cut a desolate, if proud, figure at The Valley as the reality of missing out on managing in the Championship hit home. His chance would come, however, after Adkins quit at the KCOM Stadium to create a vacancy that he was glad to fill.
“It was a big decision to leave,” admits the City chief about cutting short his own time in the south of the county. “But I am very ambitious and want to manage in the Championship.
“I was so disappointed to miss out last season. So disappointed not to get there. Everyone was. The Championship is a tremendous league. Every game is a real contest. But we are only focusing on ourselves.
“That is all that matters. It was the same last season at Doncaster. We have to focus on how we can hurt the opposition.”
Such a bold approach brought its rewards at the Keepmoat. Having finished 15th under Darren Ferguson in the 2017-18 campaign, Rovers were not expected to be among the leading pack.
But, after starting with back-to-back wins, McCann and his players never looked back. The football was entertaining and the fans lapped it up.
A first appearance in the FA Cup fifth round since 1936 accompanied the promotion push, Rovers scoring a commendable 16 goals in six ties before eventually bowing out 2-0 at home to Premier League side Crystal Palace.
“It is going to be fun,” McCann says with a chuckle when asked if City fans can expect a similar brand of entertainment. “Edge of the seats stuff, at least for a while. There will be bumps in the road and goals will be conceded.
“But I back us to score a few at the other end, too. That will be how it is in the early weeks as we all get used to each other. The belief kicks in with results and that then spreads to the fans.
“I want my teams to play with that belief. I believe in the boys and they need to believe in themselves.
“These things take time. They have been used to playing a certain way and it can be hard to change that overnight. But pre-season has been good.
“Really enjoyable and useful, from my point of view. The boys have worked ever so hard.
“Marbella was a big week. It helped form a bond between us all that we have taken on. Mind, I am glad it is over. We now want to get on with the season.”
The past five weeks have been all about the new head coach getting to know his players and vice-versa.
This is the fourth consecutive campaign that has kicked off at the KCOM with a different man at the helm. All have faced a varying degree of problems.
First, Mike Phelan was thrust into the role following Steve Bruce’s resignation. Leonid Slutsky and Adkins later both had to contend with a summer of major departures.
McCann may well face similar disruption with there still being plenty of time before the window closes for Jarrod Bowen to be spirited away to the Premier League.
The futures of Markus Henriksen and Kamil Grosicki, the last of those to join Hull in their top-flight days, are also shrouded in uncertainty.
It is far from ideal with the new campaign just a few days away but McCann is ready to tackle head on whatever comes his way.
“You always learn,” said the former Doncaster and Peterborough United chief. “I have learned a lot in my two-and-a-half years as a manager and I continue to learn.
“This is a club that was in the Premier League three years ago. I am here because I feel I can help the club improve.”
City rounded off their pre-season programme last Saturday with a visit to McCann’s old stomping ground.
A 2-2 draw with Doncaster ensued, Everton loanee Josh Bowler hitting a late equaliser for the Tigers on an afternoon when some among the home support left the Tigers manager in no doubt as to their displeasure over his decision to decamp to the East Riding. Not that it fazed McCann.
“There was a lovely welcome from staff and the people inside the club,” he said. “They understood my decision.
“The fans less so but that is how it often is in football. They booed me (on Saturday) but a year ago they didn’t want me at the club. Something must have changed in that time.”