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Sheppey United assistant manager Darren Blackburn discusses recruitment plans after losing key men Richie Hamill and Connor Wilkins

Sheppey assistant manager Darren Blackburn is confident the right players will come their way following key departures.

Earlier this month the Ites lost skipper Richie Hamill to Swale rivals Sittingbourne.

Sheppey assistant manager Darren Blackburn. Picture: Ken Medwyn
Sheppey assistant manager Darren Blackburn. Picture: Ken Medwyn

And on Sunday Connor Wilkins, last season’s players’ player and supporters’ player-of-the-year, joined Ramsgate.

The Ites wanted both to stay and are working hard on replacements.

“We know we're under a little rebuild - we’re under no illusions,” said Blackburn.

“We’re not hoodwinking fans or trying to shy away from that.

“We know we’ve lost a couple of good players but every squad evolves and every club evolves.

“It’s a natural process in football.

“Sometimes it happens sooner than you want it to when players move on.

“That’s what happened here but we’re scanning the market for replacements.

“Some aren’t right for us, some aren’t financially achievable for us but we’ve had a lot of conversations.

“There’s a couple I’m speaking to this week and I should get a verdict on one soon.

“We’ve also got a few coming in for pre-season who we’re not announcing because it isn’t right for both parties to announce them.

“There’s a few wildcards coming into training and I think three or four of them could do well.

“They’re lads who are proven at Step 5, a couple coming back from injury who are proven at Step 4 and one or two who’ve dabbled at Step 3 and want to chat with us.

“Ernie (Batten, manager) and I have been in football long enough to know all these announcements clubs are making don’t mean anything for a weeks yet until the friendlies start.

“Players become available and players who perhaps weren’t in your price bracket all of a sudden are as the season gets closer.

“We’re trying hard - I’ve barely been off the phone - and we’ll get the right players.

“We’re a great club, with a fantastic fanbase and excellent facilities - some of the best in the league.

“We’re not being arrogant about that, it’s just fact.

“We know what we’ve got on our side and we have a sensible budget that allows us to make half-decent offers.

“The trouble at the moment, in my opinion, is the prices are inflated and you’ve got teams offering players decent Step 3 money to play at Step 4 or stay at Step 4.

“We’ve got shirts to fill and we know we’ll fill them with the type of club we are.

“There’s no reason why we can’t attract players.

“The fans don’t need to panic. We’re certainly not panicking.

“It’s a case of getting the right bodies over the line when they become available and keeping our eyes and ears open.

“It was important we retained as much quality from last season as we could, and we’ve done that with the likes of Danny Leonard, Jacob Lambert, Aiden Prall and Lekan Majoyegbe.

“Then we continue to fill the squad with the right characters.

“Mentality is key. It doesn’t have to be the best group of players, it has to be a special group of players.

“You look at Three Bridges last season or Hythe (where Blackburn was assistant manager) the year before.”

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