PAUL Crarey looks back on Barrow Raiders’ first year back in the Betfred Championship with mixed emotions after their 2018 season reached its conclusion at Featherstone Rovers last Sunday.

The 34-6 defeat at Post Office Road meant little in the grand scheme of things for the Raiders, who had long since achieved their objective of staying in the second tier after winning promotion via the League One play-offs the year before.

Indeed, Barrow not only avoided going straight back down but also finished above three other clubs – no mean feat considering the rash of injuries which decimated the squad mid-season and the financial problems which threatened the future of the club as a whole.

It was therefore a combination of relief, pride and all sorts of other feelings in between which head coach Crarey was filled with following the match at Featherstone, and he is looking forward to some well-earned time off.

“It’s a mix of emotions,” said Crarey. “It’s been a tough season off the field and on it, we’ve been questioned as a group and we’ve come through all of it – and we’ve been so tight as a group and I think that’s got us through it.

“For me, it’s just about relief of it being the end of the season and I’m going to have an off-season this year, which I didn’t last year because of the state the club was in and then we went through it again mid-season.

“It’s difficult because you care about the club; I’ve been a fan of Barrow since I was five and then I played for them, and it’s so hard to keep it going.

“I admire the people on the board and who put the money in to try to keep us going, because it’s so difficult in today’s climate.”

Barrow’s team-building for next season is at an advanced stage, with many of the key members of the current squad signed up on either one or two-year contracts, and Deon Cross, Jake Spedding and Tee Ritson all set to join as new signings.

However, there is still some rebuilding to do with the likes of Wigan Warriors-bound Joe Bullock and Alec Susino moving on.

Yet Crarey is proud of the progress the Raiders have made during his four years back in charge at Craven Park.

“It’s going to be a tough, tough year and we’re going to be around where we are now, so it’s very difficult and it’s a massive rebuilding job,” said Crarey.

“Any players you produce who become good players you lose them and that’s the disheartening thing because everyone wants to play Super League.

“But I’m not bothered about Super League, I’m a fan of Barrow Raiders and I’m just bothered about this club.

“But in four years, we’ve come from having no players to being a Championship side and being the leading light in Cumbria.

“I’m proud of the club for working so hard, and we’ve fought, fought and fought, and we’ve made it to the finish line.”