Every sport has been affected by the impact of Covid-19 but Gordonians coach Ryan Morrice believes there is one silver lining to be found amongst the clouds.
When Morrice stepped down as head coach in May little he had little idea his successor Jim Greenwood would have to wait until 2021 to take charge of the team for his first competitive game in charge.
But amidst the gloom of seeing the domestic season written off Morrice can see the growing desire among players to get back to playing competitive matches.
Morrice said: “What this year has shown is how strong the desire to play rugby is among the guys. Following the initial outbreak we returned for one session before Aberdeen was put into lockdown and the players were gutted.
“There has been a real camaraderie amongst the players and coaches during this time and I think everyone has really looked ahead to those Tuesday and Thursday training sessions. I’m confident that same desire will be there when we do return.”
When players will be able to return remains unclear but Morrice is optimistic next season can start as normal in late August.
He said: “We’ve got to have hope that come mid-July we’ll be starting pre-season training with a view to getting going again at the end of August.
“The SRU have been very good in terms of keeping clubs informed and the communication with the clubs has been pretty clear. The guidance has been there for us at every step.
“But we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
“We had between 24 and 30, which was our limit, for training. That was the maximum allowed in tier two but it is not allowed in tier two. We’ve still got a long road ahead of us before we’re close to normality.”
While Morrice is hopeful of rugby returning in 2021 he says clubs are already hard at work at trying to mitigate the fallout from more than a year of no matches.
He believes clubs in Aberdeen in particular face geographical challenges due to the fallout from the pandemic.
Morrice said: “I think we all thought we’d be out of the office and working from home for six weeks then things would settle down but here we are nine months later.
“Aberdeen is a transient city and it has been a real up and down period for the area due to oil and gas industry. There isn’t the same number of people travelling in and out of the city.
“We’ve been engaging with the local universities about speaking to student players who have travelled up and similarly, the students who are part of the squad are always making us aware of other students who may be moving up to the area.
“It’s a networking process but even more valuable in the current climate. We speak to coaches at other clubs too as new faces are more than welcome at any club.”
Morrice’s decision to take a backseat after five years at the helm of the Dons means his replacement Greenwood is now in charge at Countesswells.
The wait to play again continues but Morrice has been impressed by successor’s plans for the team and he insists Greenwood has used the training sessions wisely to implement his ideas.
He said: “Since Jim came in he has had to plan around the pandemic and the tiers rather than preparing for the season starting.
“He has some really good plans though and has spent the time working on upskilling the guys, working on the things which let us down last season. We’ve had lots of game-based drills and mini-games.
“There has been a real focus on putting in place set rules on what we’re trying to achieve but make it fun for the guys too. Training twice a week when there is no game in sight has not been easy and it has been a challenge.
“The biggest aspect of all of this has been giving players a space to train and see their mates, for their mental health as much as physical. We’ve all learned the value of seeing a friendly face this year.”
With Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire moving up to tier three just before Christmas all clubs in the area will have to wait for the number of cases in their region to drop before they can get back to work.
The irony of the milder conditions following the decision to cancel the season has also not been lost on the Dons coach.
Morrice said: “We were hoping to hear when we would get the chance to play some friendlies but the way things are going it’s all up in the air just now.
“I can’t see us playing anytime soon. If we’re lucky we’ll maybe see some sevens’ matches but it depends on infection rates and where we’re at in terms of the vaccine being distributed. We have no option but to play it by ear.
“For Jim it’s a case of not planning too far ahead. Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire moving to tier three has brought everything to a halt again for the time being.
“In a normal season we finish our season in March with a couple of rescheduled games usually played in April. It’s just our luck this has been the best start to a winter we’ve had in years.
“There have been some significant periods of rain but nothing which would have resulted in matches being postponed.”