FREE PRESS FOCUS: Exclusive chat with Dons co-owner Carl Hall

Dons director of rugby, and co-owner of the club Carl Hall. Picture: Liz Mockler D1046LM
Dons director of rugby, and co-owner of the club Carl Hall. Picture: Liz Mockler D1046LM

DONCASTER RLFC already have an solid objective for 2012: win promotion and access to the increased revenues that will bring.

The alternative will spark a comprehensive review of the club according to co-owner Carl Hall.

And a likely outcome of that would see their days co-habiting the Keepmoat Stadium come to an end.

The Dons came close to oblivion all too recently and Hall says there will be no gambling of the club to chase something beyond its means.

“The objective next season has to be to finish in the top four,” he said.

“We’d have to seriously look at the situation at the club if we don’t go up next year.

“If we stay down we’d definitely have to look at whether we can afford to stay and play in a stadium like the Keepmoat.”

The tone of our meeting was not all as grave with Hall looking back with a great sense of pride over a very positive on-field campaign.

But the conversation did keep returning to the delicate balance the club finds itself in.

Hall said: “At the start of this year we set our stall out to make the top four and we’ve achieved that.

“We’ve has a really good season and we can say we’ve been the most successful professional team in our town.

“But if I’m brutally honest it’s been tight.

“Even though we did enough to be one game away from the play off final, we’re just not getting the fans in.”

Like his counterparts at the Knights, Rovers and Belles, Hall is concerned and somewhat bewildered about the lack of supporters coming through the turnstiles.

He said: “I know the Donny public like a winning side and we’ve stuck to our end of the bargain.

“We don’t know what we have to do to get them here.

“I’ve said from day one if it all goes wrong it won’t be through us, I know if anything happened to this club I could walk away quite happy.

“We need the support of the public if we want to kick on to the next level and be successful.

“If we got 1000 through the gates we could give them a team that could really challenge in the next division.”

While he acknowledges supporters have concerns – particularly with the disparity between the size of the stadium and the crowd numbers – Hall insists it is in the club’s best interests to remain at the Keepmoat.

“My way of thinking is we need to put up with it, stay here and build on it and make this our home,” he said.

“I came over to play for this club in 1987 and supporters were screaming out for a brand new stadium every single year.

“Now we’ve got one, they want to go somewhere else and I just can’t understand it.

“It’s a beautiful stadium, the players love playing here.

“The fans have got the new stadium they wanted and now they should cherish it and get used to the place.”

Hall admits he is pleased over the performance over the season which met the initial targets set.

The Dons finished level in fourth place in Championship One, embarking on five and six match winning runs along the way.

Hall said: “For what we pay we’ve done well and I was happy we met our target of a top four finish.

“They’re a young bunch, they’re not experienced but they’ll be better for it and learn from it.

“We probably needed a bit of experience in key positions.

“But to get that experience in they want money that we’re not prepared to pay.

“We’ll not put the club at risk for anyone.”

The over-riding memory of this season for most will unfortunately not be the run to the play offs.

That instead will be the Shaun Leaf betting saga which resulted in the Dons skipper being banned for 18 months and took the club onto the front and back pages of national newspapers.

Hall said: “It was a bit sad really because Shaun was due a testimonial and he was just a bit naive.

“He was probably the last person you would have expected to do that.

“It was terrible if I’m honest.

“It left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth because of the way it all happened.”

A suggested restructuring of the divisions will not take place until the end of next season when there will be no relegation from the Championship and four teams promoted from Championship One.

So the target of a top four place will be carried over from this season but Hall is looking for the Dons to finish in the top two.

He said: “We will probably have to set our stall a little bit higher and aim for the top two because we don’t want to go backwards.

“It’s not putting ourselves on a pedestal, it’s about moving us forward, and it’s something we’d be confident of achieving.

“We didn’t make the play offs at all last year so it was a massive move forward for us.

“People have asked if we wanted to win promotion and the answer is of course we did. “That would be purely for the gates because playing the likes of Sheffield, Halifax and Featherstone would bring big crowds.

“We would have taken that all day long.”

Hall is confident the Dons can be a major force in Championship One next season.

The recruitment process began early and Hall is pleased with the work he and coach Tony Miller have been able to do.

He said: “I took control two years ago and since then you’d get through December before anyone would come in.

“It’s only just October and we’ve got 14 players signed on for next season, at a really good standard too.

“When we look at signing a player we don’t just look at his potential on the park we see what he’s like as a person.

“He’s got to fit in here and be the best player for the ethos of the club.”

While the situation is not quite an all or nothing one for the Dons in 2012, if the good times of this year are not repeated, it is unlikely they will again for some time.

Next year will certainly be intriguing.