Saturday Interview: Last throw of the dice can prove a winner

David Dockray was nine when his father first took him to a rugby match at Headingley.

Sir Ian McGeechan (left) and David Dockray, the new Chairman for Yorkshire Carnegie, at Headingley. (GL1005/07g)

Within a year he could tick off most grounds in the region that he had visited with his dad.

Already a Leeds United fan, the young Dockray had found another sport to obsess upon.

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Some five decades later, that obsession now extends beyond the terraces and into the boardroom.

For over the last few months, Dockray has bought into Sir Ian McGeechan’s vision and a plan Gary Hetherington described as the ‘last throw of the dice’ for creating an established team in the elite tier.

Dockray is the face of the eight investors who formed the Yorkshire Tykes Limited board that in late December assumed control of Yorkshire Carnegie.

Like his fellow contributors, Dockray – who has been made chairman – has bought into McGeechan’s grand plan; a sustainable Premiership club founded on an integrated, county-wide academy system.

When British and Irish Lions guru McGeechan announced the club’s rebrand and mapped out a route to the Premiership last summer, the sceptics appeared to outnumber those with open cheque books.

But even amid coaching upheavel and disappointment on the field, there has been enough interest to help fund the plan.

Dockray, a Headingley regular in support of not just Carnegie but the Rhinos and Yorkshire CCC, was formerly the European managing partner of PwC Consulting, and a global board member for IBM Global.

Now semi-retired, he runs his own consultancy business.

Along with his seven other investors, he has pledged an eighth of up to £4m over the next two-and-a-half years that the new board and existing members such as McGeechan and Hetherington hope will result in a sustainable Premiership team.

“My fellow investors and I believe the same thing,” says Dockray. “First of all, we believe it is the right thing to do. And secondly, we’re in a position to do something about it.

“They, like me, want to see it come to fruition in their lifetime and that’s why we’ve put money into it.”

There is no money to be made, certainly not from a club whose attendances are now under 1,500. So what motivates them?

“It’s a sporting opportunity,” adds Dockray. “Sport has been part of my life since my father brought me here when I was nine. I’ve been interested in sport all my life but too busy doing work to do as much of it as I wanted.

“Having been brought up in Yorkshire, I’m keen that things in Yorkshire succeed. And the objective of a sustainable Premiership team in Yorkshire suits me down to the ground.

“We wouldn’t have put our money in if the club had stayed as Leeds. Being Leeds wouldn’t have given us the chance of achieving this vision for the region.”

Progress is being made off the pitch. The satellite academy set-up extends to six points across Yorkshire and encompasses around 700 children.

Supermarket chain Asda have provided the sponsorship to bring schools into the system. A scholarship scheme is on the horizon and McGeechan says the project – one he sees emulating the great New Zealand provincial system – is ahead of schedule.

That element of the Yorkshire Carnegie vision is ring-fenced, separate from the first-team operation at Headingley. Its development is not dependant on success on the pitch, thankfully.

For that is where this new board, and new enterprise, will be judged – and where the club is currently failing.

The money provided for the first team this season is believed to be the third highest in the Championship behind Worcester and Bristol, yet Carnegie sit ninth, with little margin for error in their pursuit of a top-four place.

Next season, Dockray and the new investors will again provide the third-highest budget in the division. Their objective is to finish in the top two.

“There’s a number of things we’ve learned from this year,” says Dockray. “The club had a plan built around (head coach) Jimmy Lowes and his departure was not something we anticipated.

“A number of players who had come on board did so because of Jimmy.

“The new coach (Gary Mercer) didn’t work out. It’s been a story of disruption and we need to avoid that next season.

“The objective next year is top two, after which who knows what the play-offs might hold.

“But there is a need to get promotion as soon as we can because we have seen the levels in the Premiership rising over the years. It’s become harder and harder since we were last there.

“There has to be a balance, though, and we need to build it properly, because if we don’t, it will not be a sustainable model.

“Ideally, we’d want to see some product from the Yorkshire-wide player-development system coming on stream, like it has with some of our new players, and then complementing that with players from outside.

“I’m not going to put a timetable on getting into the Premiership but it needs to be sooner rather than later.”

Planning for a sustained assault on the Premiership in the next two seasons – a timespan in which the first tranche of investment has been pledged – has already begun.

While Dockray and other board members are conscious not to deem this season a write-off so as to not harm further the club’s dwindling attendance levels, it does not require a mathematical genius or a great rugby brain to see that Carnegie’s top-four hopes are all-but over.

With that in mind, the appointment of a new head coach is imperative, and Dockray says Carnegie want an experienced union man with a successful background. Latterly they have gone down the route of appointing former league men – Lowes and Mercer – but it looks unlikely that Tommy McGee’s role as caretaker head coach will be extended.

“We’ve got to look at everything we need to do to get into the top two,” says Dockray. “It’s clear in many respects that we’ve made good progress with Tommy, and that will continue I believe. But we have to work out what we need to do to achieve that top-two finish.

“We will make the best of this season as we can. If we can do things differently for next season we will do.

“The attendances are a source of concern. A successful side playing here makes a big difference, and not just a successful side but the way that team plays.”

As a way of concluding the impact the new board hope to have – and one to fill fans with hope that this new dawn will not be false – Dockray says: “We’re here to make a difference, not maintain the status quo.”