ULVERSTON rugby league coach Phil Atkinson has come full circle in a sport he has been involved in for more than 30 years.

The 41-year-old started at Dragley Beck as an under-eights player and went through the Ulverston system before being snapped up as an 18-year-old by Barrow Raiders.

Fast forward 14 years and 349 professional games later and Acky, is still getting the same buzz with his hometown club.

Now, of course, his boots only come out on Monday and Wednesday training nights as he puts his squad through their paces for their tests ahead in both the Cumbria and Barrow and District leagues.

The first-team’s efforts must have delighted Acky as they started off like an express train, winning their opening three Cumbria League games and, although they stuttered at Hensingham and at home to Barrow Island, hopes are high they will finish in a comfortable position at the end of the season.

Atkinson returned to the Dragley Beck fold after his contract as assistant coach ran out at Craven Park. He is now in his second season in charge at Ulverston, where he shares the experience of time in the semi-professional game with the next generation of players.

Some of those younger players, scrum half Connor Saunders and packman Brad Williamson, are beginning to blossom for Ulverston and newly-formed college outfit Furness Raiders, which has delighted the likeable coach.

Looking back at his return to the club, the Siemens fitter said: “Ulverston realised I wasn’t doing anything so they came and asked me if I fancied assisting Paul Gardner at the time.

“He was struggling a bit with shifts and he needed a bit of a hand, and it just went from there. As work got a bit more for him he just had to step down so I took over.”

He added: “Last year we came third from bottom, this year the personal aim for the team is basically to see an improvement.

“Last year to be fair we struggled a little bit for numbers at times but the lads have obviously got together in pre-season and they’ve rallied among themselves.

“They have shown a great attitude toward pre-season training and, up to now, numbers are pretty good, and it is no coincidence that the first few results we have had we have done all right.

“If we can get mid-table, I think that’s a job pretty well done.

“It’s challenging every week. I won’t be the only amateur coach in the area that struggles with lads working shifts all the time.

“One of the big challenges is trying to get two teams out every week for the first team and the second team. They are a great set of lads, they are all mates off the field as well.

“They are not just rugby players they are genuine mates away from the rugby club as well, that makes it easier.”

Atkinson’s brother Neil runs the A-team and Ulverston vice-chairman Alan Moses plays an important supportive role, while people like Dennis Potter and Brian Benson are ensuring there will be players for the future in the mini-rugby scene.

Regarding coaching the senior teams, Atkinson said: “Every session we have is based around trying to improve individual skills and we try to integrate them into how the team works.

“I try not to differentiate between two sides. I don’t see the second team as one team and they go away and do their thing. I try and integrate everyone into being an Ulverston player, not an Ulverston first-team or second-team player.”

Away from the action, Atkinson also appreciates the support the club get from local businesses, as the former Ulverston Victoria High School pupil added: “The local community has been brilliant.

“Amateur clubs just can’t run without the local companies getting behind us and supporting us, it is massively appreciated. There wouldn’t be a rugby club if there were no sponsors.”

Away from rugby, the club’s annual charity boxing night at Coronation Hall has proved to be a big hit for both players and supporters alike. A third event will take place in December this year, when players will put on the gloves once again.

No doubt organisers will hope it will provide plenty of punch for the club and the town.