Old Albanian gear up for National League One campaign

IT’S certainly time to look forward for Old Albanian as they gear up for next season in National League One.

After an edgy first two months up to the end of October 2011 in which Old Albanians won six matches but conceded four, including by narrow margins four teams earmarked for victories, a nineteen match run of consecutive wins ensured that OAs took the League Championship title and with it automatic promotion.

The final game of the season was lost by one point but by that time the only club, Richmond, which could catch up and overtake OAs, had also lost their final game.

In taking the title with 123 points to Richmond’s 118, OAs scored 1,095 points with a points difference of 503 - 173 points better than the nearest contender. As a measure of the expansive game played by the club, 795 of those points were from tries.

No 8, and Swedish International Andrew Daish, was top try scorer with 23. The longest-serving member of the squad, No 15, Richard Gregg, kicked 262 points and added seven tries of his own for a personal tally of 297.

The teams the club had to beat in those first two months were Richmond, Henley and Southend – all who OAs had never beaten before - plus newcomers Hartpury College.

After Southend, the last of these, and despite only suffering narrow-margin defeats, director of rugby James Shanahan resolved to both avenge the reverses and remain unbeaten.

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Only slipping up at Launceston 19-18 on the last day of the season, OAs managed eight wins by fifty points or more.

OAs’ strength lay in the closeness of the squad and the regularity with which they played together. The first and last games of the season were against Launceston and fourteen of the squad of 20 participated in both matches.

The coaching staff remained throughout with Shanahan, skipper/coach Lawrence White, Bruce Millar and manager Jamie Simpson all present at Launceston on 28th April to receive the League championship cup from Mr Norman Robertson, Chairman of the National Clubs Association.

National League 2 South, in which OAs ended up fifth in their first outing the previous season, was considered to be a tougher sixteen clubs than in 2010/2011.

Gone were ‘drop through’ clubs like Newbury Blues, replaced by Hartpury College, Barnes and Hertford all promoted, with Redruth and Launceston joining from the other direction.

The latter two could only manage sixth and seventh respectively, below Hartpury in fourth. Barnes and, alas, Hertford had each booked a return ticket.

OAs now look forward to next August when they enter National League One and with it the distinction of playing amongst sixteen of the top forty clubs in England.

Amongst the better known names are Coventry, Rosslyn Park, Fylde, Esher and the oldest rugby club in the world, Blackheath.

It is hoped that the squad will remain largely together. Shanahan’s first club as player/coach is a League One resident, Cambridge City.

With their profile raised, Old Albanians hope to claim the dividend of increased attendances at Woollams in the coming season with only a slight rise in admission proposed from �10 to �12 with club members’ concession of �5 remaining.

For Saturday afternoons, a visit to support OAs must represent the best value entertainment for miles around, with the closest rivals being Cambridge or a trip into London.

Becoming a vice president of OARFC entitles supporters to attend many pre-match lunches and other events during next season, while the club are always eager to talk to potential sponsors, whose profile will also be raised accordingly.