John Kear reflects on an amazing play-off rollercoaster for the Bulldogs and looks ahead to the big one on Sunday.
The Bulldogs stand on the threshold of the most significant game in their modern history on Sunday as they bid to dethrone the Sheffield Eagles as Kingstone Press Cider Champions at the Leigh Sports Village. www.batleybulldogs.co.uk caught up with head coach John Kear this week to collect his thoughts on recent events.
At the start of the campaign, JK stated that the club's aim was to get to the play-offs, win a game and then see where it goes from there. Recent events suggest that expectations have been exceeded and our head coach was keen to heap praise on his squad for this. "It's the players that I'm most pleased for this season. They've stood rock solid throughout the season and they have worked ever so hard and kept improving and they are now receiving their ultimate reward. During our recent rocky patch, I kept telling them they were good enough, even when they had started doubting themselves after a few hiccups. Since we recovered our form, the belief has grown and we now have our biggest game in front of us and I have told them that they now need to turn up, do themselves justice and attempt to be crowned Champions".
The achievement in getting a club often regarded as unfashionable to a Grand Final clearly ranks high on Kear's CV when he was asked to compare this to some of the illustrious highlights of his career. "It's up there. We're in the final two after a gruelling 30-game campaign and whether we finish first or second that's where we are at. It's tribute to everyone in our group that we have got to this stage, and it's a massive achievement for a bunch of part-time players. Our game is based on graft and every single one of them has grafted all season!"
Kear looked the calmest man in the ground on Sunday at Featherstone and remained determined to win through even when the task looked insurmountable: "The game changer for me was Alex Rowe's try - that first half was like the perfect storm; they threw everything at us and we showed character and determination to weather that storm and then go over on the stroke of half-time in what was a really rare foray. At the break I said to the players that they couldn't do any more to us than they already had and that we now needed to take our chances. I must admit, I did waver a bit when they pushed in on to 20-6, but when Potts scored his try I sensed it was all on again - it was like we'd taken an energy pill on the back of that try which contained a great effort from the skipper (Byron Smith) to create the opportunity - it was the assist of the season for me!"
The Bulldogs recent propensity to land drop goals continues to improve and it was put to Kear that his side were more composed at Featherstone than they had been the previous week at Leigh. "We have practiced it a fair bit. To be fair, I thought we were superb in extra-time at Leigh, but a bit crazy in the last 7 or 8 minutes of normal time taking speculative potshots in atrocious conditions. In both periods of extra-time against Leigh and Fev we played for territory and we finished with so much momentum on Sunday. I thought Fev played in the second half to preserve their lead rather than to extend it and we took full advantage of that. I had noticed in their game at home to Leigh that they had struggled late on and there is no fitter team than us thanks to John Heaton and that extra fitness gave us the go-forward to win the game. As for George Flanagan dropping the kick from dummy-half, that was Tom Hemingway's suggestion in training. Tom came up with the idea - he's a clever footballer and it says a lot about the lad that he continues to contribute even when not in the team."
Following two strenuous encounters, the Bulldogs approach ahead of the final is set for a subtle change according to JK: "They'll be resting and recovering, then we'll review Sunday's game. There's still some improvements to make despite doing a lot right, ahead of the Sheffield game and we will be working on mental and physical aspects of our performance this week."
With Kear's former club the Eagles standing in our way, it's a mouthwatering clash as far as he is concerned. "It's nice to be playing them and I love the irony of it. I have a great affection for the Sheffield club and the success we achieved is well documented. Now Batley has grown to mean a lot to me and it means it will be a great final and it will please me no end if I can beat my old club!"
Finally, JK paid tribute to the contribution of the fans: "We need them to be like they were at Featherstone on Sunday. The players loved it - they came in buzzing after the warm-up and the fed off the energy. We want the fans to make one part of the ground ours and be our 18th man again because it helped us no end last week, and hopefully with a lot of eyes on us we can perform and do ourselves and everyone connected with the club justice".
John Kear was in conversation with Mark Ward.