Doncaster Rovers: ‘It’s been an okay season – but we need to be better’ – Grant McCann reflects on the 2018/19 season
When he insisted he did not want sixth place to be the pinnacle of Doncaster Rovers' achievements, Grant McCann was not simply spouting rhetoric.
While the rest of the footballing world was lining up with plaudits ready following the brilliant performance at Charlton Athletic, McCann was smarting.
A play-off semi-final defeat via a penalty shootout ended Rovers' hunt for promotion.
Though even reaching the play-offs was a significant surpassing of plenty of people's expectations, not winning them saw Rovers fail to hit the primary target of their manager.
Mere minutes after the game at The Valley, with the pain of the most cruel manner of exits still at its most raw, McCann told the media of his pride in his players but disappointment in himself.
Several days on, after time to reflect, the sentiment remains the same as he looks back on his first season in charge of the club.
"Truthfully, it's been an okay season," he told the Free Press.
"A lot of people will say 'well done, you've been tremendous. Getting to the fifth round of the FA Cup, losing on penalties in the play-offs, it's a lottery.'
"That's not me. That's not been me from day one.
"I've had a lot of individual meetings with the boys and the staff this morning because we need to be better next season. That is what I will say.
"I feel disappointed, I feel hurt and almost like I've let a few people down.
"Talking openly and honestly, that's the way I feel.
"The one thing I am is a fighter. Cliffy [Byrne, assistant] is a fighter and my staff are all the same.
"We want to make sure the group is stronger next year.
"We set out to get promoted and we didn't achieve it.
"A lot of people may look at it and think it's been a good season because we were favourites for relegation.
"But deep down inside, myself, the staff and the players knew we were good enough. We just didn't quite get there.
"We've got to regroup, focus our minds on next year and be stronger across every aspect of the football club."
One can only imagine that some of his players will have left their individual meetings with McCann slightly taken aback by the boss' disappointment and clear frustration.
But McCann himself is convinced the group share his feelings on missing out on promotion and will not accept this term as being 'good enough.'
And the belief within the camp is something he has been delighted to see develop during his time in charge.
"When I came in and we had the big meeting in La Manga at the start of pre-season, I felt as if 80 per cent believed we could win promotion," he said.
"That's including staff as well as players.
"In turn, three of the staff members left within a few months of the season. That in itself told me they didn't believe we could go for promotion.
"And we replaced them with staff that did believe it.
"As the season went on, everyone started to believe more.
"One thing I do know is that at the start of next season, they will believe it.
"They will see how close we have been.
"We know expectations will be different. People will expect us to challenge for the top six and beyond, but I'm looking forward to that.
"It'll bring out the best in me and the best in the team."
Undoubtedly expectations on Rovers will be higher for next season thanks to their impressive campaign and, for the wider audience, the performance they produced against Charlton Athletic.
Though his own demands have been high this season, McCann says he will expect even more from his side next term.
"I think there will be an expectancy," he said.
"My standards will go higher. My demands will be higher.
"It won't be over the top so the boys are on edge.
"They'll enjoy it and embrace it.
"We'll play with no fear and loads of freedom again and we'll see where we go.
"But every department of the training ground and the club has to improve.
"We have to be better.
"Everyone works so hard at the training ground. They're unbelievable at their jobs.
"But we have to get better because ultimately I feel as if we didn't get to where we want to go.
"That's the way I feel and it's just me. It's the way I'm driven.
"All the meetings with the players on Tuesday were to show where we can get better and improve.
"Everyone is learning from this. It's another year's experience and everyone will be better for next season."