WHEN Darren Cunningham was sacked by Jed-Forest last week it was not unexpected after just one win in 12 games this season, writes Stuart Cameron.
The popular coach from Morpeth had led the club to Premier Two champions status, as well as lifting the Kings of the Sevens trophy, but with seven games remaining in the National League, the Royal Blues are 11 points adrift from the eighth-placed team and are deep in the relegation zone.
“I’m a big boy and I know that when you take a role at that level you put yourself up on a pedestal, and when things go wrong you’re the one who gets the blame,” he commented following his Riverside Park exit last week.
“If you look at the whole coaching thing there’s only so much a coach can get across to a group of players. I’ve been at Jed for four years and it got more and more difficult to come up with new ideas to keep the regulars interested.”
Despite the fact that the team managed three bonus points against two of the top teams in the league in the space of two weeks, it was not enough to save Cunningham’s job.
“The club admitted that they hadn’t helped me by getting new players in, but they still felt that we should have won those last few games, and we didn’t,” he explained.
“There were signs of improvement and injured players were coming back, but there was no depth. There are talented backs at the club, but we struggled to get ball, and if you don’t get the ball you can’t score points.”
Big decisions are made on fine margins in any sport and, ultimately, time ran out for the popular coach who remains loyal in his support.
“It would be devastating for the club and the town if Jed got relegated,” he added.
“With its history it should be in the Premiership as far as I’m concerned, but they simply haven’t got the players or the talent to challenge at this time. The club has to get players in if they want to compete at that level, but that costs money and to get the best you have to have incentives and the players have to be good enough.
“I don’t want to have a go at anyone and certainly not the players because they did their best. But we lost seven men from last season and we’ve had to replace them with guys from the 2nd XV, some of whom are not quite ready in terms of experience to step up to this level.
“But the players have been fantastic and I want to wish them all the best. I hope they keep plugging away and I hope they don’t lose faith and listen to whoever takes over and give them the respect and help they’ve given me these past four years.”
So what now for Darren?
“I might find out what it’s like putting my own kids to bed!
“Rugby’s a full-time job really – you never switch off from it cos you’re forever trying to find ways to win games, pouring over DVDs and analysing data. It’s hard during a season to get another position, but in the meantime I’ll probably help out some of the local clubs where I am till the end of the season and then look to see what’s about, or maybe the phone will go with an offer?
“But I’ll never switch off from rugby.”
Jed were dealt a further blow last weekend when they were beaten 15-12 by National League campaigners Hawick YM in a Border League tie (full report on page 27).