“Season Highlights - wins over Chiswick and Belsize Park”
Looking back at the last 12 months for the senior playing squad is something I have probably done every day for a long time. It has been brilliant, exciting, demanding, draining! A 1st team record of 20 unbeaten games was ended by a loss by eight points to Harpenden – had we lost by only seven points we would have won the league for the first time in our history. The truth is we were not good enough on that day but I believe we lost the league somewhere in the months before, by missing out on a crucial bonus point when its importance did not seem to matter.
Of course the highs were manifest. The 2nd XV have proven to be a real success, getting to their own cup final and narrowly missing out on retaining the Cup. This season, the 2nd XV have continued to maintain a very high standard, due in no small part to their co-captains Phil Angelkovic and Tom Carr.
For the 1st team, the highlights were obviously finishing 2nd with 19 wins and a draw, beating the club record of 18 wins in a season. Defeating the eventual league winners HAC comprehensively was almost my personal highlight – but not quite.
This season we started with a depleted squad. Of the 24 players used to beat HAC home and away, 13 had either left, retired or were long-term injured. We were fortunate to welcome into the Club some exceptional new talent – men who were strong enough to suffer some heavy and damaging losses early on and not only stay, but encourage patience and commitment from all.
In addition, those who remained from last season proved they were of strong character, "accepting the two imposters defeat and success" as just the same, and playing a large part in the turn around. Even more encouraging, many players have raced back from injury in order to stand beside their battered team mates as soon as possible.
With that kind of character in the squad it was no shock to see the team's performances improve. We go into the New Year on the back of a huge win for the 2’s and a four-game unbeaten run for the 1s. These last two wins are easily my highlights of the year. The 1s were in 9th place not too long ago and eyeing the two last games of the year with huge trepidation. We faced Chiswick and Belsize Park back-to-back, teams in 2nd and 1st place respectively. Hampstead won both 24-21, the second played in the face of a freezing tempest.
As for the future, I guess that is up to us. Like most rugby clubs at our level we are finding recruitment, retention and the number of fixtures a genuine challenge. On our side, though, we have a massive youth section that should produce a large number of players for the future – but only if we learn to absorb them into the senior squads readily and quickly.
And just as developing our own young adults is a massive opportunity, so is taking advantage of the chaos effecting rugby at our level in general. We can use energy, innovation, organisation and commitment to pick up players who are not playing. Or we can do nothing and face the consequences. Because the line that we are ‘just a pub side' no longer washes, I'm afraid. London Cornish are a pub side and, more pertinently, so are local rivals HAC and Belsize Park. And they are starting to leave us behind. I know on the pitch and in training most players are proving they have strength and character. We now need to decide if we have it off the pitch.
Updated 16:57 - 20 Jan 2019 by John McGuinness