Nick Westby: Carnegie point to signs of welcome recovery

The nature of competitive, professional sport is that at times, clubs go through rough periods.

Sir Ian McGeechan.

For every team enjoying success, there has to be a polar opposite, teams suffering poor results and enduring questions about the direction they are headed.

It is sport’s yin and yang.

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There will always be a team at the top of the table, just as there will always be one propping up the rest.

Yorkshire Carnegie have veered closer to the latter over the last two months, just when they needed to be as clear about their setting as never before.

In a summer when they took on the county name with a new, and possibly last-ditch approach to creating a sustainable and successful Premiership club, and appointed a new head coach, they needed to hit the ground running in all aspects.

On the field, quite obviously, they have failed to do that. Just two wins in eight Championship games has led to the departure of Gary Mercer.

Sir Ian McGeechan, the club’s executive chairman, said yesterday in a brief statement on the Mercer situation: “It has been a disappointing outcome for all concerned and the situation still remains unclear but we are hopeful it will be resolved in the not too distant future.”

Whether the club pulled the trigger, whether Mercer forced their hand or it was a genuinely amicable parting of the ways, what is certain is that the 48-year-old New Zealander’s time at the club is over.

What his departure allows the club to do is draw a line in the sand on Mercer’s troubled reign.

Forwards coach Tommy McGee is in charge for the foreseeable future and already his ascension to the top job – be that temporary or permanent – has already raised spirits among the players.

Off the field, contrastingly, Carnegie are making strides.

As McGeechan put it yesterday: “It has been a difficult time but the club is healthy and the only disappointment has been the performances and results of the first team.

“But I am confident things will improve and we will have a very strong second half to the season.”

McGeechan has overseen the implementation of the club’s academy satellite programme throughout the county.

He is responsible for that element of the rebrand, connecting with clubs across the vast network of Yorkshire’s union infrastructure.

A new academy director has been appointed, Andy Rock, and important connections are being made on a daily basis.

Just this week, Jon Pendlebury – a man who emerged from the county’s grassroots level himself to play for Rotherham and Leeds, and is now Rock’s deputy in the Carnegie academy – drove through a pea-souper of a fog one evening to ensure the children at Driffield RUFC who had turned out for a coaching session with representatives of the Headingley club, were not disappointed.

It is that kind of commitment to impressionable youngsters that has a lasting effect.

Carnegie have an RFU-backed academy that for over a decade has produced Yorkshire players good enough to play for their country, and continues today to put those young men of the White Rose into England teams throughout the age groups.

Away from the field, the club is progressing in its attempts to have a new board and signficant investment in place by the new year.

If the Yorkshire Carnegie enterprise is to be a success, then McGeechan estimates they need between £2m and £4m of investment over the next three-year period to help them get back to the top flight, when, if successful, new revenue streams will open up.

In a statement released earlier this month, the club revealed that the process of creating that new ownership through a group of investors was on track, and all signs point to that being completed by the end of December.

Carnegie are confident they can make an announcement to that effect early in the new year.

Dwindling attendances are a concern. The average gate for Championship fixtures last season at Headingley was 2,491. In four games this campaign, Yorkshire have attracted an average of 1,674. That figure owes much to the 1,265 who witnessed the draw with Plymouth last week. There are mitigating circumstances – the poor form, the bad weather, the unattractive opposition – but it is on occasions like that when a club’s hardcore support stands firm, and 1,265 is worryingly low.

If they can return to their attacking style of recent seasons, then the numbers will improve.

Carnegie are on their knees right now, but scratch a little deeper and the situation is not as desperate as it first appears.