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At last…belief and faith repaid by success and silverware

Well I’m just waiting for my chance to come,
Just a silhouette against the rising sun,
Watch the water, watch the sky,
Count the days as they go by,
I’m just waiting for my chance to come,

Noah and the Whale – Waiting For My Chance To Come

Two weeks in from the season-ending celebrations, the first of the pre-season friendlies seems a long, long way off.

There have been seasons in the past, and the not too distant past at that, when the summer break couldn’t come quickly enough with supporters as well as the players deserving a well-earned break.

Indeed, there have been several years when the final games have been pretty meaningless, with little but pride to play for even when at times we looked as if we might be there or thereabouts earlier in the season. It’s actually been something of a relief when the season finally peters out and everyone goes away somewhat disheartened, only to return three months later with renewed enthusiasm and anticipation, the disappointments of the previous season well and truly behind them.

Last season’s (2016/17) conclusion was somewhat different, though.

With Coventry winning their last eight games there was a real sense of optimism and the news of a number of fairly high profile signings coming in, well it left everyone wondering just what the 2017/18 might have in store for Coventry…

Whilst I’m not one to wish time away, and certainly not during the summer months, I’m already getting withdrawal symptoms and the thought of having to go ‘cold-Coventry’ for the next 12 weeks or so isn’t one that fills me with much enthusiasm. It’s something of a selfish response I know, especially when everyone connected with the club has worked so hard over the past 12/24 months and deserves the break, but I guess it’s a tribute to all their efforts that so many supporters are already fired up for the start of next season.

There is a certain irony in the notion that whilst the players are now able to rest their aching bodies and recuperate from the strains and pains of such an intense season, for supporters that recovery took place at the very time the players themselves were suffering for the cause.

Their pain was in many ways the supporters’ redemption.

A catharsis of sorts and one that was long overdue

After years of having suffered alongside the team, this year the gaping wounds suffered by supporters and left exposed by years of underachievement were finally closed and the scars allowed to heal as Coventry ran away with the league.

At last belief and faith were repaid by success and silverware.

The players, coaches, support staff and all those who work so hard behind the scenes have really earned that break, whilst also accepting of course that there must still be those in the Office and beyond who are having to put in the hours to keep the club running over the summer, let alone prepare for next season. For supporters though (or at least for this supporter), far from welcoming an enforced absence from the game, the thought of such a lengthy period without Cov to look forward to at the weekends is something of a downer. I’m sure the players are already enjoying the close season but that’s not necessarily equally of all supporters as well.

With last season providing so many highs and so few lows, there are hardly any memories that need exorcising this time round and the overriding sense this summer isn’t one of relief or of a need to take a break from the disappointment of another pretty average season.

No, for me it’s just an overwhelming feeling of excitement about the coming months and the knowledge that the club continues to strive to better itself both on, and equally importantly, off the pitch.

If the thought of Championship rugby isn’t exciting enough, then Jon Sharp’s vision for a Coventry Rugby Club of the future certainly is – in fact whenever I look at those images of the architects plans of what the ground could look like and imagine what it might feel like to be sat in the completed stadium watching Coventry beat Wasps to confirm not just a city-wide dominance but a national one too, well it’s almost a case of sensory overload.

In fact it won’t be too long before Cov will be ending its forums with something along the lines of ‘If you’ve been affected by issues raised in this forum, the help is available by contacting….

Jon Sharp is fast becoming a Prospero-like figure, creating ‘such stuff as dreams are made of‘ on our very own doorstep.

Further big name signings and plenty of positive comments in the press and social media about how welcome Coventry’s return to the Championship is viewed outside of Cov itself haven’t help quell the expectation either. Far from looking forward to the next couple of months or so of abstinence, it just adds to the sense of frustration.

I’m sure this is starting to sound like a complaint, but it’s not meant that way at all. It’s just that for as long as I can remember I’ve always quite enjoyed the post-season break as it’s been a chance to put aside some of the disillusionment that has inevitably arisen after so many years of relative disappointment.

But no so this year.

Success isn’t something that has come knocking at the gates of the BPA too regularly recently and when supporters like myself get a taste for it, well you kind of want more.

And there’s the danger, I guess. Epicurean is just about ok, hedonistic – well, that’s a different matter.

Roll back 12 months and as a supporter it was still very much a case of Coventry on track – Year 1 of a three-year plan successfully completed and after another year of consolidation as perhaps a top 2 or 3 team in National One, the assault on the Championship could start for real in 2019/20.

That probably wasn’t quite so true for the Board and Rowland Winter who saw this season just gone as probably their best bet of reaching tier 2 of English rugby given the demise of London Welsh the season before and the absence of a relegated side from the Championship making promotion from National One that much harder.

Cov hit the ground running and in reality had the season pretty much all sewn up after 20 or so games, even allowing for a couple of hiccups along the way.

It’s all happened so quickly really, far quicker than most imagined and that’s probably made it that little bit harder to take in.

That was then…

…this is now.

The Championship awaits and for those who have followed Coventry for a good few years now, the Championship hasn’t always held the happiest of memories for Cov. We’ve never been promoted from it (although we came close under Derek Eves when we lost in the playoffs against Irish in 1997) and have been relegated on three separate occasions, in 1993, 1995 and 2010.

With that sort of background, it’s hardly surprising that for me a successful season in the Championship would be avoiding relegation and consolidating for a mid-table position the year after.

At least that’s what it would have been back at the start of last season had someone asked me what I might have hoped for…

But since then the club has continued to push the boundaries somewhat in terms of its vision and expectations.

The squad has been strengthened with players all of whom have experience of either Championship or Premiership rugby and the impressive thing is they are all arguably, on paper at least, first choice in their respective positions at the moment. Those currently wearing the first team shirts are going to have a real battle on their hands to retain them next season and that can only drive up standards. Issues of size and physicality in the front 5 appear to have been addressed and gaps in the backroom staff filled to ensure the players have the very best support available to enable them to train harder and recover more quickly.

And with a couple more announcements still to be made, it looks very much as if we’ll have a competitive squad. And even with the potential loss of Luke Narraway to Bordeaux, a competitive squad under the wings of Nick Walshe and co. could well become a very competitive one so I’m already starting to reassess what a successful season for Cov might well look like given the change in circumstances.

And with Rowland Winter (or it might have been JS!) confirming via the recent radio broadcast that the coaches/backroom staff are committed to the long term (other than Naz it seems), then the future looks brighter than it has been in the years when we’ve been promoted into the Championship in the past.

Elonex and co wouldn’t invest in the club, and certainly not over such a lengthy period, if they didn’t believe Cov were going to be a top Championship side at the very least and Jon Sharp’s commitment to turn Cov into a fully commercial operation with a first class offering is indicative of his desire, and therefore the club’s, to create a club capable of hosting Premiership rugby. With Cov looking to attract a major sponsor, or two, to replace Unipart there are further opportunities for heavy investment into the club.

A couple of things that were said in the aforementioned broadcast really stood out and have further added to the current levels of excitement. Firstly, Rowland Winter suggested that over the next two seasons Cov will push to reach the top end of the Championship and then ‘reset the challenge‘ and, secondly (and turning up the expectation to an almost stratospheric level) Jon Sharp mentioned that promotion was the goal ‘for starters‘.

Coming from the world of education, target-setting is very much the norm and having set those targets, you are then assessed against them. Now for me, even the lower of the two, namely a top four-ish finish in two years, would provide huge levels of value-added and sets the bar at an already impressive level. Far better that though than settle for the 11th place and safety that I might well have been happy to accept twelve months previously.

And then you come across various websites and social media outlets and begin to read what they have to say.

Take talkingrugbyunion.co.uk.

Under the headline ‘Top 5 Sides to Watch‘, the website picks out one team from each of the national leagues. For the Championship they not unsurprisingly plumped for Ealing Trailfinders given the players they have recruited in recent weeks. However:

If totally honest, this was a tight call. Newly promoted Coventry were the only other side to rival Ealing for this mantle, but Ealing’s signings ahead of the next season can’t be overlooked. With the likes of Campese Ma’afu, Craig Willis and Guy Armitage

As you can see, Cov get something rather more than just an honourable mention.

Championship survival? I’m already showing signs of underachievement.

So small wonder then that I find myself torn between my normal tendency to conservatism (with a small ‘c’ I hasten to add) and a growing sense that this time our return to the Championship will be somewhat different to previous promotions where we have flattered to deceive. Far from welcoming the break this year, I’m already impatient for the season to begin afresh, or at least for training to start and to get a glimpse of the new squad and that sense of real excitement that comes from seeing the players together for the first time.

However, I’ll just have to rein myself in a little and live on the present.

Has anyone else got a photo of Phil Boulton lifting the cup in front of a jubilant Coventry team as their screen saver…?

In one of his final interviews with John Wilkinson, Rowland Winter commented:

The Championship doesn’t daunt me at all. It’s new ground for me, but the same principal applies – I’ve never been in a league that I haven’t tried to win

It’s that self-belief, borne of a real trust in his own abilities and of those with whom he works, that is so heartening and it’s difficult not to be drawn into that feeling of confidence and positivity that is created every time you listen to him, even when things haven’t necessarily gone as planned.

Whilst there are never any certainties in sport , it would take a brave Cov supporter to rule out even at this early stage of RW achieving such success, however unlikely that might seem right now.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It’s a first appearance for Noah and the Whale in the blog and it might be timely at this point to mention they were the band of choice when Sue and I got married a good few years ago now…

Sadly no more, they were at the forefront of the indie scene for a good few years.

Always thought Charlie Fink sounded a bit like Tom Petty:

Count the days as they go by,
I’m just waiting for my chance to come

 

 

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