I travelled North to watch some cricket and the Challenge Cup semi-finals in August 2014 and was thrilled to be able to interview a man I’d watched taking the rugby league pitch by storm!
With an epic long weekend in front of me consisting of 2 days of international cricket, 3 rugby league matches and an Essex cricket game in Scarborough I headed up the M6. I was more than a little excited by the prospect of meeting and chatting to Mick Cassidy! I started watching rugby league live in 1996 and was pretty much hooked instantly! Mick was a player I loved watching, often helping to whoop my team London Broncos! He was always instantly recognisable by his Blond hair even with his scrum cap in place.
Although Mick was looking forward to a huge Challenge Cup Semi-Final my interest was how he got to where he is today as Strength and Conditioning Coach at the Widnes Vikings. Mick was born and brought up in Wigan; he played the ‘other’ code, rugby union until he went to secondary school. St John Fisher is a school with a strong tradition of producing high profile rugby league players; amongst them Chris Joynt, Shaun Edwards and more recently Chris Ashton, Owen Farrell and Sam Tomkins! Quite a long list! Mick played his club rugby at Wigan St Jude’s, he won a place in the Academy District Development squad at 16; training with Wigan but playing with St Jude’s. On leaving school Mick started a plumbing apprenticeship, turning pro with Wigan at 18 with a year of the apprenticeship remaining, it seems he already had an eye on the future.
Mick made his senior debut at 18; with the introduction of Super League in 1996 he was one of only 3 players to play in all 62 games until the now infamous ‘incident’ involving Adrian Morley which saw him suspended for 6 games. That was negative was far outweighed by the positives, Mick was part of the England squad at the 1995 World Cup and was selected to play for Great Britain in 1997, he switched allegiances in 1998 and made 11 appearances in the green jersey for Ireland. Mick played 368 games for Wigan over a period of 14 years and was named in the Wigan team of the decade. At 31 Mick made the move to Widnes, and thoroughly enjoyed the new challenge! We spoke about the recognition that must come to every player that their playing career isn’t going to last forever; it was clear to me that a very fit man was sitting in front of me. Mick explained that he’d always had an interest in the strength and conditioning side of things, how players ‘ticked’ in effect. At the time he went to Widnes he was playing part time and with an eye on the future he put himself through a number of short courses. Mick had also kept his hand in with the plumbing; working with his brother and on family projects over the years.
Having been close to home other than for his international forays Mick had 12 months at Barrow as Assistant Coach responsible for strength and conditioning having been advised to see things from a different ‘angle’. Micks’ life definitely went in a different direction, one it’s still heading towards; he taught plumbing at Manchester College then at Wigan College, to young adults. I can only imagine the kudos he has in the classroom! Alongside his current role at Widnes Mick is taking a formal teaching qualification; the world seems to be his oyster on that side of things, with a possibility of teaching future coaches! Back to Widnes; Mick worked with Paul Cullen for half a season and was then joined by Dennis Betts in November 2010. Dennis had been working at Gloucester Rugby Union as Skills and Development Coach since 2006.
Widnes who had been one of the original clubs forming the breakaway Northern Rugby Football Union in 1895, found themselves back in the top flight having been awarded a Superleague licence for the 2012-2014 period. We spoke about the need for players to be fit enough to turn out on a weekly basis and the use of the GPS system so widely used in rugby union. Mick made an interesting observation that he felt that rugby league sees other games as threats rather than areas to learn from. I think maybe the same can be said for rugby union. It’s very clear that Mick thoroughly enjoys his job, we spoke about why he made the decision to retire when it’s clear that he’s a fit man, he explained that it’s very tough getting up to the right level of intensity needed to play at the top.
He also explained something that all players need to consider no matter where they are in their career; that it would be very hard to come out of such a high focus profession to find yourself doing something boring. In effect Mick Cassidy is serving an apprenticeship in coaching, alongside completing formal teaching qualifications. This is a legend of a rugby league player with a very balanced view of life making sure he’s planning an interesting and secure future for himself and his family. I have to be honest and confess that I had to pinch myself to be sitting with a man I’d watched playing (and wished he was in my team!) for so many years! A consummate professional I hope the young players he’s involved with take a leaf from his book as they look to the future.