HISTORY remains thick in the Borders town of Hawick, and rather than hide from it or criticise those who clutch memories of the “good, old days”, the Greens skipper Greg Cottrell is keen for his players to embrace it on their return to the RBS Premiership.
There have been a few hearty slaps on the back in the last few months after the Hawick faithful were treated to a stirring run in the RBS National League [Division Two] last season and dramatic one-point play-off victory that triggered the trap-door for Premiership side Dundee and let the Greens spring over them and back into the top flight.
Cottrell is not quite springing at the moment. The 27-year-old hid his disappointment well at yesterday’s Murrayfield season launch, while clutching his right arm after a serious AC joint injury suffered in the “friendly” defeat by Ballymena at the weekend. He does not yet know the extent of the damage, but fears anything from ten weeks to four months, clearly not the way he wished to mark his return to the Premiership.
“I’m gutted, but it’s part of the game and I’ve been relatively lucky,” he insisted.
“I’ve been playing senior rugby for nine years and have only really had one bad injury, a broken ankle, and that was at the end of a season, so you’ve got to be positive about it.
“I’ll be around at training every week though and make sure I play my captain’s part. This is huge for the club to be back and we have to make it count.”
Born and bred in Hawick, the 5ft 6in scrum-half left the town to study for a sports science degree in Edinburgh, and after long nights on the twisty A7 returning to the capital from training at Mansfield Park, he joined Boroughmuir.
He had just missed out on Hawick’s championship successes a decade ago, but tasted success at Meggetland with a Division One triumph. So, he knows what it feels like to sit atop the Scottish club game, but despite the struggles Hawick have endured since his return, notably in retaining players and strength in depth, he is confident that this return comes with more promise.
“Phil [Leck] has come in and he’s a really good coach, and I think the club has become more professional and more serious,” he said. “There is a feeling now in the club and the town that we’re going places, that there is potential to do something there again.
“I won the league when I was at Boroughmuir, but to be honest the feeling was better of getting promotion with Hawick a few months ago than winning the league because it was with boys I grew up with, and it was for a town you grew up in.
“They are tough critics in Hawick, but it’s just because they have been used to success in the past and when you’ve had it you want it more, and that’s a good thing. It spurs you on when you pull on the green jersey.
“The game and the world has moved on. When Hawick was the top club in Scotland we had a good population and it was easy to get jobs at the mills, but that has changed and people have had to leave the town to study and work, and because more people tend to move now than they used to.
“But you need to have a level of expectation. You need something to aim towards, a challenge, and so I’d hate to see people in Hawick stop caring about what the team does.
“We’re ready for this,” he added. “We know how tough it will be.
“When we’d secured our place in the play-off last season we were all looking to see who we’d face, and with two weeks to go it could still have been one of five teams, I think, with Melrose right in the mix late on too.
“That shows how tight it is, but people have asked me if we’re just looking to stay up, and I’ve told them ‘no’. We have to have ambitions. If you aim to be mediocre you’ll be mediocre. We have to push to be better than that. Hawick always has. We’ve not always achieved it, but you have to aim to be the best.
“We’ll start with the aim of pushing for the British and Irish Cup places – top four – but we showed against Dundee, a much bigger side than us, what we’re capable of in the play-off, and played some great attacking rugby last season. It will be tougher now, but we back ourselves. Size isn’t everything.”
Mansfield Park could be an interesting place again this season.