10:20am Thursday 10th May 2012
AS DAVID O’Leary proved a boss can only trot out the same line so many times.
At the end of his spell at Leeds United it became inevitable that the Irishman would refer to his “babies”, the young prospects that he successfully promoted to the first team at Elland Road.
Such phrases can buy a bit of time with supporters. They allow coaches to say they will learn from defeats and players to say that their mistakes will stand them in good stead.
But such utterings have a short shelf life – they soon become excuses that prompt groans and the rolling of eyes.
That is something that Newport Gwent Dragons must be well aware of.
Much has been made about it being a transitional season at Rodney Parade and it will have been an invaluable one for the likes of Lewis Robling, Steffan Jones, Sam Parry, Nathan Buck, Jevon Groves, Darren Waters and even schoolboys Hallam Amos and Jack Dixon.
They have dipped their toe in at regional level and experienced the demands of life as professionals both on and off the field.
A ninth-place finish in the RaboDirect Pro12 and a number of underwhelming performances at home made it a very poor campaign for the Dragons.
Look through the fixture list and there are only a handful of truly memorable wins – at home against the Ospreys, Blues and Perpignan and away at Wasps and Edinburgh.
The mantra has seemingly been short-term pain for long-term gain.
Head coach Darren Edwards took a gamble by not including fly-half Jason Tovey and full-back Martyn Thomas once it became clear that they would be plying their trade at Cardiff Blues and Gloucester in a few months time.
He placed faith in their successors and used the opportunity to give them invaluable game time.
They are brave calls when grim defeats are leaving the coaching staff open to criticism but the proof will be in the pudding.
The Dragons had plenty of boys in their squad this season but when they arrive back in pre-season they need them to be men.
There has been a big turnover of talent at the end of this campaign, headed by Wales pair Luke Charteris and Aled Brew.
New leaders must emerge and summer signings, which the management team are working around the clock to nail down, are likely to be experienced players that will double up as mentors.
But those that broke through this season will no longer be wet behind the ears and must be on the next rung of the ladder.
If there is no sign of progress then the murmurs of discontent will become booming voices demanding the coaching team get the boot.
There have been encouraging end of season attendances but some supporters are already threatening to vote with their feet.
The 2011/12 Pro12 champions have not yet been crowned but there will already be a countdown calendar to the start of the new campaign pinned up in the HQ of the Dragons bosses.
It’s a race against time and some older heads will be signed in the coming weeks.
But those new arrivals need to be supplemented by some some growing up over the summer by the young guns.
The faith was put in them this season and it needs to be repaid.
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