First things first, it must be said that this plan means nothing unless The Exiles win promotion later this year. All signings talked about in the seasonal plans are for the following seasons.
Season 1 – 2017/18
- Avoid Relegation. If we win promotion and then fall straight back down to the Greene King IPA Championship, I fail to foreseeably recognise a situation in which London Irish continue to challenge for the said promotion. The likelihood is, if this occurs, that the loyal players of 2015/16 will no longer be loyal. The same has to be said for our financial backers.
- Retain and frequently play academy products. It is of paramount importance that young players are not only retained, but played relatively consistently. I’m not suggesting the likes of Johnny Williams should play every single game, but to have him starting a few games a month is ideal.
- Prioritise recruitment. Some Irish fans believe that another quality winger is needed to stay up next season. I disagree, as wingers don’t save a side from relagation. I’d hope that the club recognises that the key positions that need investment are: A big, ball carrying Number 8 of the Thomas Waldrom mould, with Ofisa Treviranus primed on the bench; A Premiership quality, starting hooker. Next season, I’d say Paice would be ideal to have coming off the bench, like Treviranus – a big ball-carrier, with an abundance of Premiership experience to see games out; and finally a decent, work-heavy lock. George Robson and Seb de Chaves are both of good quality, but ideally you’d have 4 decent second-rowers. In Will Lloyd aswell, we have a decent 4th choice, however I believe that this area could still be improved. If common reports are to be believed, Jim Hamilton is on his way to Hazlewood, and it would certainly be interesting seeing him pack up behind Paice!
- Retain a sense of the London Irish identity. During the relegation dogfight last season, I think the boys lost a slight sense of what it meant to be playing for London Irish. Although there were a couple of poor recruiting decisions (Sean Maitland…), I believe that Kennedy, Venter, Dodge and Danaher need to continue to instil the core values of what this club means.
Season Two – 2018/19
- Finish 10th or above. I think that a finish in 10th position would be admirable, especially if we can avoid being dragged into a relegation fight.
- Keep hold of the academy boys. Bob Casey needs to convince the likes of Theo Brophy-Clews, Johnny Williams and Joe Cokanasiga that London Irish is a club worth staying at. That trio have such high potential, but if history repeats itself and they end up at Bath, I fail to see how London Irish can end up in the top six in the following seasons.
- Recruit for all over the field. It’s tempting to bring in a couple of marquee men, however it has to be said that to finish in the top 10, quality around the field would be appreciated. Positionally, it appears that an outside centre could be required, with the possible contract expiry of Ciaran Hearn and Asaeli Tikoirotuma.
- Develop an expansive, exciting style of play. With the 2018/19 season marking the probable first season in Irish’s new stadium deal with Brentford, an attacking stylr of play should be vital. Take Wasps. The first year at the Ricoh, they gave away free ticket after free ticket, before developing a brilliantly exciting style which brought crowds back to Coventry. Provided Bob Casey manages to negotiate a far better deal with Brentford than we hold with Reading, free tickets can be given out to the lads at the biggest academy in the country.
Season Three – 2019/20
- Finish Sixth or above. Having retained academy players, added to all-round signings to improve the squad as a whole, a top six finish is perfectly feasible.
- Bring in marquee signings. A finish in the Champions Cup places is ideal, however it would only bring in signings if it looks relatively assured from January onwards. International quality players for the 2020/21 season are vital if the club are to progress, rather than decline.
- Retain solid, dependable Premiership players. A mixture of experience and youth is vital for the progression of the squad, primarily so that Brophy Clews, Williams and Cokanasiga, who will all be turning 23 over the course of the season, can make the transition from raw talent to senior players. Reliable Premiership workhorses appear to be needed for this to be successful. Players like Will Chudley and Freddie Burns spring to mind.
Season Four – 2020/21
- Finish Fourth or above. The top six finish of the previous season should see Irish as a respected force in the Aviva Premiership. A season of winning regularly against decent opposition, finishing in the top six should bring back a full winning mentality to make a playoff finish possible.
- Continue to bring in marquee signings, while phasing out ageing forces. 34 year old Blair Cowan, while a quality player, will most likely be a spent force. Despite his ageing body, his international experience and ‘team-player’ personality should ensure Cowan can have a key role off the bench.
- Learn from losses in key games. While it is pretty unlikely that Irish could win the Premiership in their first playoff appearance in 14 years, learning from mistakes is absolutely key. If Premiership success is to be achieved, losses need to be learned from – something that hasn’t been achieved in recent seasons.
Season Five – 2021/22
- Win the Aviva Premiership. I know the fans at Irish would be delighted even with a loss in the semi-finals in the previous season, but less so if errors aren’t rectified in the following season. Domination needs to be season long, so as to ensure a home semi-final. Previous seasons have shown that at huge games, most notably the relegation confirming loss to Harlequins and the annual St. Patrick’s Day Party, that the fans will flock to the terraces to get behind the boys. Should a home semi-final be won, I’d be confident of a victory for the men in green.