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Jamie Durent: Aberdeen Grammar having a season to reset will be invaluable

Aberdeen Grammar have endured a season of struggles in the Premiership
Aberdeen Grammar have endured a season of struggles in the Premiership.

When the curtain finally comes down on this rugby season, there will certainly be relief coming from Aberdeen Grammar.

It has been one with few positives to take, with club staff having to deal with one problem to another from week-to-week with little respite in sight.

This misfortune has left them rooted to the foot of the Premiership and heading for National One. But rather than it being a cause for concern, it may prove to be a turning point for the Rubislaw side.

Long-term injuries and Covid concerns have blighted them all season and should, hopefully, be cleared up by the start of the new campaign.

But more importantly it will give them a chance to thoroughly scrutinise their full operation, from top to bottom, to find out where they have to improve.

In an interview last week, director of rugby Gordon Thomson said the club needed at least a year out of the Premiership to allow them to rebuild. He felt it was “extremely difficult” to do that while trying to maintain Premiership status.

Aberdeen Grammar director of rugby Gordon Thomson.
Aberdeen Grammar director of rugby Gordon Thomson

The club was not too keen on suggestions its future might be threatened by relegation. The youth setup within the club and its partnership with the University of Aberdeen should ensure that a bigger pool of talent is available to them.

Therein lies the problem this season. Grammar have tried to run two squads and the club has been ravaged by long-term injuries and illness. It caused them to temporarily postpone a number of second-team games because of a shortage of players.

When you are coming up against teams with a greater catchment area and more players to choose from, going in with one hand tied behind your back is not conducive to flattering outcomes.

Grammar have been the only team north of Edinburgh in the Premiership this season, which tells its own story. The capital region and the Borders have a stranglehold on the top-end of the game in Scotland.

A myriad of reasons have been laid out by the club as to why the player pipeline has dried up. A number of key figures retired during lockdown, perhaps put off a return to rugby after nearly 18 months away.

Aberdeen Grammar head coach Ali O'Connor.
Aberdeen Grammar head coach Ali O’Connor

Some have been put off long bus journeys – Grammar are on the road nearly every second weekend – because of the increased risk of catching Covid and how it might affect their jobs.

There is also the decrease in the number of rugby players coming from overseas to the north-east for work in the oil and gas industry, which Grammar saw a tangential benefit from.

With all these factors combined, you have a great deal of sympathy for head coach Ali O’Connor and his coaching staff.

He has tried his best to remain positive but when the tables are continually being turned on you through no fault of your own, what can you do?

I think it is fair to say without him in charge, things may have gone even worse for Grammar during the 2021-22 season.

But with a year or two away from the Premiership, they can recalibrate and build a senior structure that is capable of supporting two teams and stabilise before looking at promotion once again.

A year like the one they have had is highly unlikely to happen again. A tornado of worst-case scenarios has swept through Grammar and left them a trail of devastation to survey.

But a summer to debrief, analyse and rebuild may be a huge uplift to this proud club.

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