THE BIG INTERVIEW
Rugby union star Garth Dew always dreamed of one day playing for his home-town club Preston Grasshoppers.
Brought up around the club since birth, one of Dew’s earliest childhood memories is standing on the touchline at Lightfoot Green watching his dad Chris captain the Hoppers first team.
Naturally he followed his old man’s lead and took up the sport literally as soon as he was knee high to a grasshopper.
He spent his junior career representing the club at all age groups – before going on to win county and then international honours for England as a teenager.
His promise as a young player ensured he was quickly snapped up by Premiership giants Sale Sharks as an 18-year-old.
Despite being signed by one of the country’s biggest clubs, Dew always harboured a niggling regret that he never actually made an appearance, at senior level, for the club which had nurtured his abilities from such a young age.
It was something he was determined to put right later on in his career but he suffered a freak injury to his knee while in action for Sedgley Park Tigers.
It ended his playing career – and any hopes he had of pulling on a Hoppers jersey at first-team level.
Instead of feeling sorry for himself, Dew decided to make use of his vast rugby knowledge and moved into coaching.
At the start of last season, he offered his services to Hoppers head coach Michael Lough and joined his backroom team.
When Lough decided to step down at the end of this season due to work and family commitments, Dew was asked to step into the breach and become Hoppers’ new head coach.
After very little consideration, Dew accepted the invitation and at just 26 years of age, he became one of the youngest men ever to take on such a high-profile position.
However, despite his tender years, Dew is relishing the opportunity of trying to lead Hoppers to success in the coming years.
“It’s a great honour and proud moment for me to be the head coach of my home-town club,” Dew told the Evening Post.
“My dad was captain of the first team at Grasshoppers in the early 1990s. Actually when he finished playing, he moved into coaching and was director of coaching when Hoppers were promoted into National One during the 1999/2000 season.
“Some of my earliest memories are down at the club.
“I remember watching my dad play when I was about two or three.
“I began playing myself at the age of six for the minis.
“I played for the club all the way up through the juniors, and it was always my ambition to play senior rugby for my home-town club.
“Even though I have never played senior rugby for Hoppers, I have grown up around the place and I know everybody.
“I played professionally away from the club – I was at Sale Sharks in their academy for two years
“I then went to Manchester RUFC and then Sedgley Park Tigers but it was always my ambition to come back to Hoppers and finish off my playing days here.
“Unfortunately, I never got the chance to do that because I got badly injured.”
It was during a game for the Tigers a couple of years ago when Dew landed awkwardly after a tackle and suffered an horrendous injury to his knee.
“I ruptured my anterior and interior cruciate knee ligaments,” he said.
“I then re-ruptured my ACL again about a year later after having had two operations.
“It was then that I decided to call it a day.
“It was just a freak injury. I had played for years without having any injuries.
“I think I just got tap-tackled on my ankle, landed funny on the ground and that was it basically – career over.
“I could have had another operation and attempted a comeback.
“But I just decided to call it a day.
“I’d had a good run – I had played some good rugby.
“Even though I miss playing, it’s exciting to get into coaching at such a young age.”
After volunteering his services for Hoppers last summer, Dew was very much on the periphery at the start but his influence soon began to be felt as the season progressed.
He got an idea that Lough was considering his position but even so was taken a little by surprise when the Hoppers committee asked him to take over after Lough confirmed his exit.
“I’ve known Loughy for years,” Dew said.
“He was in the team that got promoted in 2000 when my dad was the head coach.
“I used to take his kicking tee on to the pitch – genuinely.
“So I’ve known him for a long time.
“I did not have a great influence at first last season but I think it was around Christmas time – the team was not doing too well – and I had a few ideas which I thought could help the team.
“I just started getting more and more involved.
“The team already had two other coaches in Alan Holmes, who is still playing, and Karl Fitzpatrick.
“Loughy knew due to his work and family commitments that he would be stepping down at the end of the season.
“It was well known that Karl was leaving to take on a much bigger role at Warrington Wolves.
“Over the last six weeks of the season, Loughy took a backward step and kind of let me and Holmesy take over.
“The possibility of becoming head coach was first mentioned to me around February, which was a surprise I must say.
“At first I wasn’t too sure I was ready to take the job on but I felt that the lads had reacted well to me last season and I just thought why not?”
Dew concedes that coaching will never take the place of playing but he still gains a great deal of satisfaction from it.
“When you’re a coach, you kind of stand back a little and appreciate things a bit more,” he said..
“You take satisfaction if the team has done well and you have had an input into that success during the week in training – that is a good feeling.
“I do miss playing but this is like a fresh start for me and I’m really honoured to have been given the chance to coach Hoppers”
Dew, who works for Kukri Sports Ltd, in Preston, is keen that the club maintains its family-orientated tradition and culture.
“Preston Grasshoppers is very much a club from top to bottom,” Dew said. “Unlike other clubs, it is very much a community club.
“It’s not just about the first team – it’s about everybody right down to the juniors .
“The ethos is for everybody to play good rugby and to enjoy themselves.
“Playing-wise, I don’t think it’s realistic for every team to play the same style of rugby but certainly I want the first team and the second team to be playing the same way.
“And we will be looking out for any promising colts who look capable of making the step up to senior level.”
It is important for Hoppers and Dew to improve upon the season just gone which saw Preston suffer a poor campaign by their standards.
“I think we are well placed to do better next season,” Dew said.
“We have made a number of new signings which we will be announcing over the next few weeks.
“I think we finished something like 11th last season – I think we should have finished around sixth or seventh.
“There’s pressure but I put pressure on myself to do well.
“I want to be in that top four next season and in my head I’d like to be in that top two.
“There’s bound to be pressure because Hoppers is a big club and there are a lot of proud people who are involved and want to see the team do well.
“I certainly found it hard at times when we lost last season and I am sure it’s going to be even tougher next season now that I’m head coach.”
As he enters a new phase in his rugby career at such a young age, Dew tends not to dwell too much on the injuries which curtailed his playing career early.
Instead he prefers to remember the good times and feels proud of the England youth caps which he won.
“Playing for England is something I will always be proud of,” Dew said.
“Some lads would do anything to have those experiences.
“I have got caps on the wall and nobody can take those away. I played representative rugby for England Under-16s, Under-18s and Under-19s.
“For the Under-16s it was mainly home nations stuff playing against Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
“In the Under-18s, I went to Italy with the squad for the European Championships.
“I played against Portugal, Italy and France in Treviso.
“The year after, I played in the Under-19s World Cup in Belfast, which is kind of funny because the year before it was held in Dubai and the year after I think it went to South Africa.
“But when I played, it was in Belfast!
“It was a great experience though. I played with and against players who have gone on to really big things.
“I played with Joe Simpson, Alex Goode, Nathan Catt.
“I played against people like Leigh Halfpenny and Sam Warburton – Sam was the captain of Wales in our age group.
“There were some players who have become big names and done well for themselves.
“Most of the lads I played with for England have gone on to play Premiership rugby.
“Unfortunately, that wasn’t me in the end.”
Dew never played a first-team game at Sale Sharks and he admits that, looking back, he was slightly overawed training with international class players on a daily basis.
He added: “I had a great time there to be fair but they had just won the Premiership season before I joined in 2007 and they had some seriously good players in their squad.
“I think they probably had something like 20-odd internationals.
“I was quite small and was certainly not big enough to play flanker at that level.
“I played many times for the second team and went on loan to Manchester and helped them win promotion.
“The current French national coach Philippe Saint-André was the head coach of Sale at the time alongside Kingsley Jones.
“They signed a lot of players and had a huge budget.
“A lot of the younger lads did not really get a chance.
“But it was a great experience looking back. There were people like Sébastien Chabal, the big French lock, and Jason Robinson.
“It was great to train with them but you felt under pressure in training to perform – these were world-class players and you didn’t want to mess up.”
After leaving Sale, Dew spurned the opportunity to go full-time with Manchester in the Championship in favour of studying for a degree at UCLan while playing part-time.