Seeing as we’re about to launch into the preseason where we finally get to take the car out of the garage and see how she is running, I thought now would be a good time for one of my sporadic brain-dumps.
First off, the open day last Saturday was an absolute hoot and although I’m not keen on the suggestion that we make the shearing of the Caimh an annual event, it was certainly the most memorable haircut I’ve received. (The previous one was when the barber had to get taken away in an ambulance after he suffered an honest-to-God panic attack before we started. Dodge held up well considering.) Thanks to all those who sponsored me, either on the day or beforehand – and yes, I’m going to include the link below if you’d like to join the cool kids.
Seeing so many old friends was wonderful and meeting all the new players was exciting. They really do seem like a good bunch. I think the biggest thing that struck me was the sense of optimism about the place. Let’s be honest, last season was a stressful and draining experience for everyone and for a while there, the post-season wasn’t much fun either. It was all about who was and wasn’t leaving. Then, against improbable odds we had the second coming of the Venter. Brendan and the new coaching team were announced and everything settled down. Where there was confusion we now had certainty. It felt like we were able to finally get to grips with the new challenges we face.
I thought Clark Laidlaw nailed one of those key challenges when I interviewed him on Saturday. We have got to be humble. The biggest mistake we could make is viewing ourselves as a premiership team on a gap year. We are a championship team with the sole ambition of getting promoted and we aren’t the only ones with that goal. We’re going to be in an unusual position for us, that of being favorites. That comes with its own baggage and we have to embrace it. As George Robson aka Lord Voldermort said, we’re going to be every other team’s cup final. Our physical commitment has to be there week-in, week-out. We have a point to prove but so does everybody else. One of the golden rules of writing is to remember that everyone is the hero of their own story; nobody is going to give us anything this year, we’ve got to go and take it.
Speaking of physical, we all need to get onboard with the fact that from now on we are going to be playing Venterball. Brendan has always had certain principles throughout his career and they’ve been proven to work. First and foremost, you defend with discipline and aggression. Our tryline is sacred ground, if anyone is allowed to wander casually across it, there will be hell to pay. Secondly, dominate up front. Our front-five has been radically overhauled and we need to translate that into a suffocating set-piece that grinds opponents down. Thirdly, territory is king. Expect to see us kick the ball more than we’ve done previously and then allow opponents to crash against that wall of green steel.
None of this is to say that we’ll see a team of crash’n’bash robots. There will be attack but it’ll come in lightning flurries after we’ve worked the body and worn our opponent down. Our new props are big units who like to play with ball in hand, expect to see some of that before we spin it wide. When we then go wide, it’ll be with a real purpose. Here’s two statistical predictions. 1/ Front five players will get a lot more touches than they have in recent years. 2/ Wingers will touch the ball a little less and score a whole lot more.
There is an added advantage to this approach. If and to be crystal clear, it is very definitely an ‘if’ – we get promoted to the premiership, Venterball is the gameplan that will allow us to firstly stay there and then gradually build to where we really want to be.
We should all feel excited about the season ahead. A new dawn has broken but there is a long day ahead. Remember though, if it was easy, it wouldn’t be any fun!
C’mon you Irish!
You can sponsor me shaving my noggin in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support at: