SUNDAY’S 30-14 Derbyshire Cup final defeat in the mud at Ilkeston provided a rather downbeat end to Matlock’s season but first team coach Alan Johnson was still able to reflect positively on the campaign.
Consistently heavy rain during the week had turned the pitch at The Stute, Ilkeston, into a quagmire in places, but all teams involved on the day gave it their all in decidedly tricky conditions, including Matlock 2nds, who lost their own final against Derby by the narrow margin of 5-3.
Alan Johnson told the Mercury: “We tried to play our normal brand of running rugby but it was tricky. There was so much standing water on the pitch but both sides decided to go for it, even though there’d been a game on it beforehand.
“There was no skid or bounce and it was virtually impossible to change direction, so that didn’t help our running game but we did what we could in the circumstances.”
Ashley Statham’s try and three penalties from Chris Young got the points for Matlock in a game where Johnson felt they had around half of the possession and territory.
“The big difference was that they got four tries off a rolling maul. But to be fair, Ilkeston deserved to win. They spotted our Achilles heel and exploited it, so that’s something we need to address for next season.
“In the seconds’ game, they lost 5-3 and we hit the crossbar with a penalty two minutes from time so we were that close to winning it.
“It would have been nice to get some silverware at the end but it wasn’t to be and we still look at the season very positively. Pre-season, if you’d said we would win the Tens tournament, get to the final of the Derbyshire Cup and finish fifth, we’d have certainly taken that.
“The big thing for me has been the commitment from the lads at training.
“Even when the weather has been bad, we’ve had good turnouts. Generally, we’ve had a minimum of 16-17 and sometimes there’s been up to 34 or 35 present.
“They have always turned up, even when things haven’t been going our way.
“They are a thinking team and never go through the motions. If something has gone wrong, they look at how they can put it right in training, ready for the next game.
“Maybe if we had been a little bit tighter or a little more clinical we could even have finished fourth, who knows.
“But in my first season as coach, I’ve had a lot of support from the lads.
“The senior lads in particular have been happy to put their points of view across but very accepting of the fact that one person has to make the final decision.
“The committee has provided fantastic support for the ideas I’ve put forward. They can see the bigger picture and that can only benefit the club.”
Asked for a number of standout players this season, Johnson picked three forwards and four backs.
“Lewis Richardson, in his first full season, was brilliant at prop when he came in for Jonny Bunting, after he broke his leg. Jonny’s worked really hard to get back and has made it into the seconds so far, so has done so well, but Lewis impressed so much, to the point where he made that position his own.
“James Cooper has been outstanding in the back row. He added a bit of grunt and brawn when he came back in.
“He gets the pack on the front foot and drags other along with him while Jack Wagg took over as skipper partway through the season, which is never easy, but has been a fantastic performer and leader.
“In the backs, Ben Neville has been consistently outstanding at centre and Chris Young has provided superb performances with the boot, as was shown by him being the top points scorer in the league.
“Dan Hooton and Dave Hartley have also done well. We moved Dan to the wing and he has been absolutely great. Dave Hartley has done excellently in the centre and has provided leadership from there too.
“The potential is there for us to be a very good side. We are going to have a break now but they are the sort of lads who will still go to the gym anyway.
“But we’ve had ten months non-stop so they have earned a breather. We would like a few more pre-season matches this time around. Last time it was Camp Hill and Burton so maybe this time we could add the likes of Derby and Bakewell too. Who knows? It could be nice to set up the season with games against them.”
The club is keen to hear from any potential players. Go to http://www.pitchero.com/clubs/matlock/ for more details.