Stop worrying about the potholes and enjoy the ride…
Don’t worry, be happy
In every life we have some trouble
But when you worry you make it double
Don’t worry, be happy
Don’t worry, be happy now
Bobby McFerrin – Don’t Worry, Be Happy
Without wishing to be too introspective, it’s been in my nature to worry almost as much about what the opposition are doing as I do about Coventry.
In previous seasons, around about now, I would have been jumping from the website of one National One team to another to try to determine the movers and shakers. Is Plymouth Albion retaining the majority of its squad, is Blackheath recruiting in numbers or is Chinnor looking as if it is going to be spending big this summer?
I spent too much time worrying about the potholes to enjoy the ride…
Somewhere in my head, Coventry’s success would result from other clubs’ failings or misfortunes just as much as it would from Coventry’s inability to dominate the rest of the league – a realisation now of my own lack of confidence in a club that has all too often underachieved for far too long.
But I am, rather unnervingly, a little indifferent to it all this season.
The news that Phil Chesters, for instance, has signed for Old Elthamiams would have sent me into a state of veritable apoplexy 12 months ago, given his scoring record against Cov in the seasons we played Ealing when the club yo-yoed between National One and the Championship.
Not so this season.
In fact quite the reverse – Chesters return to National One is something to look forward to – he’s a clinical finisher, still presumably able to show a clean pair of heels to many opposition defences and he and Dom Lespierre will doubtless create problems for a number of National One sides over the course of the season.
A player to be admired and respected, but not feared, not by the current Coventry team.
But his return to our league isn’t something that I’m going to worry unduly about, other than perhaps at 2.30 pm on the Saturday we play OEs and they’re out warming up.
No, not at all…
For me now, it’s all about what Cov does and no one else.
We are, in short, fast becoming masters of our own destiny, something that hasn’t always been the case in recent years.
The change in Coventry over the past 12 months has been dramatic to say the least – from a club that seemed to lack both leadership and direction to one that knows exactly where it wants to be and what is needed to get there.
I’m always a bit wary of making such statements because in doing so there’s an explicit criticism of what was happening at Coventry pre-Winter. However, despite having a genuine liking and respect for Scott Morgan, the difference in the way the team is managed on and off the pitch is massive and the gap continues to grow.
The transformation has been remarkable…
And what’s been noticeable to me is that even the sceptics seem to have gone very quiet of late.
Whilst the vast majority of supporters have been very welcoming to Rowland Winter, there were those who, understandably, were disappointed and upset at the loss of so many of the 2015/16 squad and who were already sharpening their scythes when Coventry lost 4 of the first 6 games last season…even Scott Morgan chipped in with a couple comments on the Messageboard as Coventry’s away form looked to be a real concern before Christmas.
RW’s relative inexperience, a lack of experience, too, in his coaches and some of the newly recruited players underperforming were all voiced as a new look Coventry took a while to settle under a new look management structure.
However, despite the odd unforeseen problem, including the dismissal of two of his coaches, RW quietly continued to show confidence in his players and always maintained that the first half of the season would be a bedding in period, a time for consolidation and reflection.
Those supporters with stronger hearts held firm and since Christmas they have been rewarded with a series of results that suggest Coventry are beginning to make up some of the lost ground on the clubs that finished above us last season.
And now there isn’t a dissenting voice to be heard.
The Messageboard, so often in the past the place for supporters to vent their concerns, even angst on occasions, remains a place of appreciation and optimism, somewhere any self-respecting heretic would steer well clear of.
Rowland Winter has won over the Coventry faithful not by words, but by deeds.
His faith in his players and their ability to do what is asked of them has been matched by a growing belief amongst supporters that the club is heading in a direction that it hasn’t travelled for many a season.
False dawns were all too often followed by Artic nights, year after year, so that even the most loyal of supporters had become a little disillusioned by the inability of Cov teams to ever really fulfil the promise which the club, and consequently the supporters, placed on them.
But in Jon Sharp, the club has a Chairman who clearly has the club’s real interests at heart.
He and his board have worked hard to bring some financial stability to Cov after years of teetering on the brink of ruin. His vision for the club, both on and off the pitch, is at the heart of Coventry’s resurgence and had he not taken what was surely something of a risk by appointing Rowland Winter, we might still be in the doldrums, adrift in the mid-table of mediocrity, rudderless and with little hope of the club ridding itself of the perceived image amongst rugby supporters the length and breadth of the country that the club’s better years are well and truly behind it.
At the start of the season just ended (July 2016), I polled readers of this blog as to where they felt Coventry needed to finish for the season to be deemed a success purely on results (without taking into account all the other changes that were taking place at the time).
The results were as follows:
Purely on the basis of this poll, 65% of those who took part would now be disappointed, given the club’s 4th place finish.
Admittedly it was conducted in July and the numbers taking part in the poll were fairly low (142) , but it does show that expectations were high back then, with almost a fifth believing a top two finish would be required for the season to be a success.
Yet no one is expressing any disappointment in Cov’s final position and whilst I shouldn’t speak for anyone other than myself, I can only guess that this is for a couple of reasons.
First, there’s always a degree of confidence in excess of the reality when a new DoR comes in…despite all the problems you know to be inherent in the club, you hope for an immediate response, especially when the names of Pritchard and Stankovich are involved.
And secondly, and related to the above, most supporters until recently have probably been unaware of just what is involved in creating a team that can compete at top of National One.
Until this season, I think I just naively assumed that fitness, rehab, physiotherapy, nutrition and even the quality of coaching were pretty much the same across most clubs in our league and didn’t impact quite as much as they do and it was really all about the calibre of player coming into the club that would determine how successful the season would be.
And if that’s not true for most supporters, I think it was for me.
The more money a club had, the better the players it could afford and therefore the more successful it would be. Coventry, having one of the bigger playing budgets in our league, was therefore always underachieving.
It wasn’t until Rowland Winter came in and made everything that much more transparent that I suddenly became aware of just how much went on behind the scenes and how much the success of the team depends on the quality of the staff who support it, as much as the player who play in it. It became clear very quickly, and I can only speak for myself here, just how much had to be put in place before
Cov could really start to put in the kind of consistent performances against the top teams that would ensure a top three finish.
And it was always going to take time for that to happen.
That our results have matched those of Ampthill, and been close to those of Plymouth, since Christmas speaks volumes for the progress we have made under RW over the second half of the season.
So for me, it’s not now about how good the opposition are, it’s about how close to fulfilling our potential we can get.
The rest of the teams are just the potholes that litter the road our journey takes.
I, for one, will spend less time worrying about them and more time taking stock of where we are and enjoying the adventure that comes with the journey we are undertaking.
Jon Sharp and Rowland Winter have quite simply brought the pride back into being a Coventry supporter.
And the roles are now reversed…I’m not looking at OEs and worrying about Phil Chesters this season, but you can bet your bottom dollar that the other teams in National One are looking at the likes of:
- Phil Nilsen
- Nile Dacres
- George Oram
- Luke Narraway
- Latu Makaafi
- Jack Preece
- Dave Brazier
- Alex Grove
- Sam Tuitupou
and adding those to the squad we already have and wondering just how strong a side Coventry will be this season.
And as for the signing of Phil Nilsen – well, that might just be the best of the lot…the pack next season is going to be something special and I imagine Boris must be itching to get them together pre-season.
Exciting is an understatement!
And this is still only year two of a three or four-year project with the aim of promotion, so even though it is something that is going to be in the minds of everyone connected with the club this season, this isn’t a make or break year by any means….
…and that’s a frightening thought…
…for the rest of the league, that is.
Yes, I’m sure the club is targeting a higher position than the fourth place achieved last season but this isn’t necessarily THE squad that will win us promotion.
Year two should move us that much nearer and with many of the players listed above on two-year contracts, further players could be added the season after, which is the one I think everyone assumed when RW came in would be the most likely season Cov would go all out for a place in the Championship.
Things have changed, of course, with no relegation from Tier 2 this season, but even so…
To have such well-respected players come into the club, players who have played at the highest level for club and country, should make any Cov supporter sit up and take note and the fact that these players have committed themselves to Coventry makes me immensely proud.
The cynics outside of Cov will doubtless claim that Coventry has had to dig deep into its coffers to entice players of such quality to the club, but this is just not the case. JW said as much on the Messageboard and Chris Millerchip, in a comment in this blog, was quick to point out that:
Jon Sharp and his team are doing an absolutely fantastic job (without breaking the bank) – he is a very committed fan and astute businessman – a necessary combination for owning a professional sports club! Looking forward to next season!
Jon Sharp and Rowland Winter haven’t done what has sometimes been done in the past at Cov and put all their eggs into the one basket. In fact, egg production is set to grow over the next couple of seasons and those hens will keep on a-laying for a good while yet.
Momentum is definitely increasing, that’s for sure, and hopefully this will be reflected in increasing gates next season as Coventry continue to play attractive rugby whilst also ensuring that it is winning rugby, too.
I’m too busy enjoying the view to notice…
In every life we have some trouble
But when you worry you make it double
Don’t worry, be happy
Get the barbecue on, have a beer or two and play this loud…
It’s going to be one heck of a summer….
Don’t worry. Be happy.