NEARLY 20 years after Aberdeen Grammar were last in serious contention for the top league title in the Scottish club game, there is not a day goes by when two of the key players of the the 2003-04 season at Rubislaw do not reflect on the one that got away.
Former Grammar captain and robust hooker Iain Stanger and his multi-skilled stand off Keith Oddie, an aspiring Orcadian, were, however, philosophical about buying into the Aberdeen club’s five year plan near the end of last century designed to bring top class rugby to the North East by their ambitious chief executive Derek Younger.
“The only problem was it took six years to get into Premiership One, but once we got there we were a match for anyone with a talented team of local based players, strengthened by a contingent of Australians led by head coach Damian Reidy from Brisbane and another Queenslander in Rod Seib, an inspirational full-back who must rate as the best amateur player to grace Rubislaw in the modern game,” recalls Stanger.
The five year plan, in fact, made an encouraging start after the Rubislaw committee led by President Dave Robinson embarked upon a strategy of appointing top head coaches in the bid to land the top league title.
“First we had Steve Coward, who had spent much of his time in Australia, and was a highly motivated individual who soon had the squad pulling in the same direction,” explains Oddie, who was to develop into a top level number 10 while keeping the scoreboard ticking over with his excellent place kicking. “We then had John Fleming, a Kiwi who played for New Zealand in the 1970s. They were both fine coaches. I learned so much from them both.”
The club was also fortunate to have the services of Brendan Adey, a local coach who brought innovative ideas to the squad, supplementing the efforts of the head coaches.
“Brendan was ahead of his time, making a huge contribution to our development,” says Stanger, who was quick to acknowledge the smart thinking of the committee when they sought to fill key positions in the team.
Long time servant at Rubislaw, David Leighton used his considerable negotiating skills to bring a group of Australians into the squad, including Reidy and Seib, but also signed Kasey Mitchell, a classy centre with an electric turn of pace, as was the case of his fellow Australian scrum-half Mark McLean.
Among the other imports were back division players Matthew Bebbington, Shane Arnold and Luke McCann, and flanker Tim Dinnen. All quality players according to Oddie: ”They all settled in well and became good friends despite the competition for places, but for me it was Rod ‘Rocket’ Seib who brought the wow factor to Rubislaw.
“He is without doubt the best club player I have ever played with or against, and feared by defences around the country. My regret is we didn’t win the league for him and Damian. Their efforts deserved no less. It was a golden era at the club. I was privileged to be part of it.”
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Stanger added: “After winning our first eight league games, I was convinced we would win the league but a poor run around the turn of the year cost us dearly, including a dreadful performance in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup away to Dundee High, denying us a game at Murrayfield in the Final.
“Nearly 20 years on, I console myself with the fact we made friends for life with players from another continent.”
The Australians for their part were equally delighted to have had the opportunity to play in Scotland.
“I have nothing but fond memories of my time in Aberdeen,” says Bebbington. “As a former rugby league player, I had to make major adjustments to my game but was greatly helped by Iain Stanger and Keith Oddie, two of the legends at Rubislaw,
“Playing with such high quality players from both countries has helped me in my coaching career here in Australia. It was a never to be forgotten experience. I wish Grammar luck in all they do.”
Oddie and Stanger now approaching their half centuries are hopeful the amateur game will soon be back in action and that Grammar will be a major force in the Premiership.
“We are also delighted to see Rod Seib continues to make his way in the game, now that he is attack coach at ACT Brumbies,” concluded Seib. “He was always bound for the top.”
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