Dons have what it takes to end Championship exile
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With no guarantee of promotion via the play-offs, especially given the fact that injuries to key players during the process can derail the strongest of favourites, the club’s sights have got to be set on finishing top.
It was 2015 when the Dons were relegated from the Championship – just 12 months after being in the running to finish second until the latter stages of the run-in and still finishing in a play-off spot.
It is fair to say that there have been some strong sides promoted during that time with Keighley’s financial outlay being rewarded with automatic promotion last season.
It was always going to be a tall order for the Dons to finish above the Cougars and play-off winners Swinton were always fancied to make an immediate return to the Championship.
It is always something of a gamble to predict how the season will pan out in advance of a game being played.
I don’t think many expected North Wales Crusaders to hold down second spot for long periods last season, for instance.
But I don’t see the 2023 field as being as strong as in 2022.
I certainly don’t see anyone dominating the campaign the way that Keighley did and any one of four or five sides, including the Dons, are entitled to fancy their chances of being promoted.
The Dons hopes’ of getting off to a good start should be helped by the fact that they have been able to retain the bulk of last year’s squad.
There have only been a couple of notable departures which the club hope will be negated by the players – including former Super League star Brett Ferris – they have brought in.
They will need to be quick out of the blocks with a home match against Hunslet to kick off the season on Sunday followed by a visit to Rochdale.
Both clubs are expected to be among their biggest challengers and as such will be viewed as key four-pointers by all parties.
Those two games are followed by a home tie against Oldham, another fancied side, in the third round of the Challenge Cup, and then a home league game against Crusaders.
Were the Dons to win all four games then head coach Richard Horne would be entitled to feel quietly confident that, barring a run of injuries, his charges have what it takes to finally get out of the third tier.
Given the fact that the former Hull and Great Britain star has failed to get the Dons promoted during his time in charge some people within the game may feel that he is fortunate to still be involved at the Eco-Power Stadium.
But I feel that the club have made the right decision to stick with Horne who I have always found to be both an amiable character and a knowledgeable coach.
Like myself, Horne will feel that if his forwards can lay the platform then the club have the backs to go all the way.
*In addition to the two points up for grabs, Doncaster and Hunslet will be playing for the John Sheridan Shield as they do when they first meet for the first time in a season.
Sheridan made his name as a coach when steering Castleford’s second string to a number of trophies before spending a season in charge of both the club’s first team and local rivals Leeds prior to joining the Dons in 1984.
I was down at the ground to report on Sheridan’s first night in charge and just eight players reported for training which left him wondering if he had made the right choice when deciding to link up with the Dons.
Fortunately for the Dons, his wife persuaded him to give it a go and he is now rightly regarded as one of the best, if not the best, coaches the club have had in the six decades I have covered them.
I think it is fair to say that Sheridan was a little old fashioned in the way he coached during his time at Tattersfield.
But he was a master tactician and also knew how to assemble a squad on a shoestring budget by picking up players languishing in reserve teams at bigger clubs and bringing the best out of them
He also gave a chance to a number of local amateurs, who all came good, such as Kevin Parkhouse, Mark Gibbon, Alan Carr, John Evans and former Wheatley Hills RFC winger Neil Turner – several of whom I had recommended to him.
Sheridan, who also went on to coach Hunslet, gave the Dons a respectability they never previously had and he undoubtedly laid the foundations for their rise, albeit briefly, to the top flight in the mid-90s.
He also steered the Dons to a shock Challenge Cup win over mighty Hull Kingston Rovers on a mud bath of a pitch at Tattersfield.
*Could I take this opportunity to pass on my condolences to the family of well-known freelance photographer Roy Ingram who passed away recently at the grand old age of 89.
I regularly came across Roy, who was always a cheery character, and always had a tale to tell.
I don’t think that Roy would take offence when I say that quantity rather than quality was sometimes his trademark.
I certainly remember him coming into my office one day with a Sunday Alliance League team picture that I had ordered and quickly noticed that one player in the second row was dressed in a full-length gorilla costume. Something Roy, in his customary hurry to get to his next job, hadn’t spotted.
*Visit www.doncasterfreepress.co.uk for the latest sports news.