Plymouth Albion head coach Kieran Hallett can look back on the past 12 months with a great deal of satisfaction.
It was early in December 2016 that he took over the reins at Brickfields after Dan Parkes had stepped down from his position.
Hallett had been player-backs coach after making the move from Greene King IPA Championship side Cornish Pirates, and suddenly found himself with an unexpectedly early promotion.
But he has done a superb job, and heading into yesterday’s final game of 2017 at Esher, he had guided Albion to victory in 22 of their 28 games this calendar year, with two draws and only four defeats.
2017 got off to a disappointing start for Albion and Hallett, as they lost 17-10 at Rosslyn Park on January 7, but they followed that with 13 successive wins to take them through until the end of the campaign.
That gave them an excellent second-place finish in the final table, but they missed out on promotion because they just happened to be in the same division as a Hartpury side who swept all before them by winning all 30 of their matches to capture the National One title with a 148-point haul – 30 clear of nearest rivals Albion.
Unfortunately for Hallett, this term has seen them battling against another seemingly immovable Hartpury-type force in Coventry, who are operating with a budget around four times the size of that available to Hallett and went into this weekend’s games 13 points clear at the top of the table, and boasting a 100 per cent record, with 14 of the 30 matches played.
Hallett does not have the finances to compete with the Midlanders, and his cause has not been helped by injuries during the first half of the sea- son to the likes of Herbie Stupple, Jack Arnott and Robin Wedlake, but Albion have fought on, with the help of their dual-registered contingent from Aviva Premiership champions Exeter Chiefs, and while finishing top and winning promotion is a tall order, they can go into 2018 with something still to play for.
Albion’s 26-8 bonus-point win over Old Albanian at Brickfields last Saturday made it 12 months since they had last lost at home – and that was to Hartpury – and that is some achievement, but Hallett, who decided to hang his boots up over the summer, was keen to play it down somewhat.
“It is something that we spoke about wanting to achieve and a goal we set ourselves, so in that regard it is nice to have got it, but it’s important that we park it pretty quickly and move on,” he said.
“You don’t win any prizes for going 12 months unbeaten at home. “The guys should be proud of themselves. We mentioned it after the game, but now we move on and try to go for another 12 months!”
In a somewhat ill-tempered game, Old Albanian left winger Craig Dowsett was red-carded for an off- the-ball incident which left Albion’s Dean Squire requiring five stitches to his head and a broken nose, and Hallett explained: “Dean’s face is a little swollen at the moment and he is in a bit of a state.
“It’s frustrating, because it means he will be unavailable for a couple of weeks. But the matter is out of our hands and we will let the disciplinary panel deal with that.”
With club owners Dave Venables and Bruce Priday having, I understand, gone their separate ways a few weeks ago, with Venables remaining at Brickfields, though nothing has formally been decided or announced, Albion are likely to have to continue to keep a keen eye on the purse strings, and there is no sign of a major injection of cash to help them compete with the Coventrys of this world.
But Hallett is doing a fine job given the resources he has to work with, and that can only bode very well for the future.