'This has been one of the best years we’ve had at the club’ - Dons chief
Doncaster RLFC fell at the final hurdle in their promotion quest but chief executive Carl Hall insists 2021 will go down as one of the club’s best years.
The Dons’ storied 70-year history contains its fair share of woe and adversity – spending the best part of three decades virtually rooted to the foot of the Rugby Football League.
Since the 1980s, Doncaster have flirted very briefly with the top tier and have enjoyed several respectable seasons in the second division.
The modern day Dons are keen to get back to that level and a five-year plan put together by Club Doncaster bosses in 2016 targeted promotion to the Super League by 2022.
However, defeat in the play-off final to Workington Town earlier this month consigned the club to a seventh straight season in League One following relegation from the Championship in 2015.
Despite another road block to Doncaster’s loftier aspirations, Hall still reflects on 2021 with pride.
"We were playing semi-final rugby for the last six weeks,” he told BBC Radio Sheffield. “We had the challenge of winning those games at home to get into the play-offs and then we were on the road.
“The boys have done magnificently and I'm really proud of them.
“It was just one more win which we couldn't get which was really vital for the club.
“I was just gutted for the boys,” he added.
“They were in tears after the game and that just showed how much this club meant to them. That told me everything when I saw a few of them like that.”
Doncaster’s incredible last gasp win over Keighley Cougars filled supporters with optimism ahead of the final but Town, who had finished the regular season in second and thus benefited from a more straightforward play-off route, ultimately ran out convincing 36-12 winners at Derwent Park.
It proved to be one game too far for the Dons.
“We prepared really well,” said Hall.
“We went up the day before and on the Saturday night we watched some messages from the families and that was pretty emotional.
“We're not going to lie, we were quietly confident we could get the job done and we didn't but we have to pay massive respect to Workington.
“Sometimes in sport you just have to hold your hands up and say you lost to the better team on the day.
“They were certainly the better team on the day. We have no complaints with the result, they won fair and square. All the best to them.”
The future of the RFL remains shrouded in doubt amid talk of restructuring the leagues and the possible introduction of Super League 2 but Hall is confident Doncaster can move forward stronger after re-connecting with fans.
“If we went up it would have accelerated the club,” he said.
“You saw how many fans we took up there. There seems to be a real big connection back with the supporters and the club which we had lost a little bit over the last few years. I'm not really sure why - maybe they were expecting a lot of us.
“But fair play to the supporters, they've really got behind us this season. We're massively grateful for that.
“Now we just need to hold onto it and we all need to go and get ourselves ready to go again.
“We're not too sure what the structure is going to be like going forward but whatever league we're in, or whatever they decide to do, we want to try and hold onto what we've got at the moment and try and win whatever league we're in.”
As thoughts turn to 2022, Hall accepts that it will be difficult to keep this year’s squad together.
“We'd like to keep the majority of them but we know there's Championship clubs after a few of them and we'll do really well to hold onto them,” he said.
“I said to them after the game we'd love you all to stick together but we understand you've got to look after your families.
“We love them all but some will go on and we wouldn't think any less of them.
“I'm pretty confident if we'd have won the game we'd have kept the majority of that squad and added to it.”
He continued: “I'm proud of the players. It's what they do on the field that makes everyone come together and we just try and keep the club financially sound behind the scenes.
“This has been one of the best years we've had at the club - the togetherness, what everyone's been through, some players have been out with Covid and others have had to jump in.
“The one thing we've been this year is a team. There's been no real stand-out individuals, we're a team across the board, and that's a massive credit to Richard Horne [head coach] and Chris Plume [assistant coach] and all the backroom team.
“I've been around quite a while and in some good clubs and good environments but I've never seen anything like the environment we're in now.
“Misi Taulapapa is the same and he said to me 'there's no clicks at this club, everyone gets on, there's no backbiting if lads aren't playing'.
“It's really hard to get that and we don't want to lose it. Any players that come in will have to buy into that culture. The coach knows what he wants and we do a lot of background checks on players to make sure they fit the club because if you can get that togetherness it goes a long way to getting you success.”