The atmosphere surrounding Dubai Eagles captain Conor Coakley must be feeling pretty lofty right now – and not just because the Irish behemoth stands at well over six feet tall.
Not many people believed the club would enjoy any shred of success in their debut campaign in UAE rugby, but Coakley and Eagles were walking on air a few weeks ago when they earned a maiden triumph in just their second competitive fixture as a club.
A gritty 17-11 win over Abu Dhabi Saracens arrived in the second week of the West Asia Premiership and that has seen belief at Dubai Sports City soar.
They have been brought back down to earth slightly since – a close 28-12 reversal against Dubai Hurricanes a week later followed by a 68-0 hammering at the hands of Jebel Ali Dragons last Thursday.
Coakley, however, is not deterred. Eagles is a project and he knows 2017/18 will be a continual learning process.
“I’m delighted,” the 32-year-old all-action flanker, a former Canes player, said following the milestone victory against Sarries.
“I was with Doha for years and played a season in Kuwait too and that’s one of my highs in rugby.
“We’re still building. We feel we’re building something really big here and (the Sarries game) was the beginning of it. We put our stamp on the rugby map.
“It was scrappy and there were mistakes made but we played some great systems too and kept our discipline. The guys are playing for each other, so I’m really happy.”
“We’ve got the first win and we’re going to build on this. There were times where things went right but we’ve still got a lot to do, a lot to work on.”
In danger of getting carried away, he checks himself before adding confidently: “But we’ll be targeting more wins before Christmas.”
Having not played a full competitive game for two years due to injury, the burly forward admitted adrenaline got him through a mentally and physically draining game.
And he revealed vanquished opponents Sarries are benchmark Eagles aspire to reach.
“I think so, yes,” adds Coakley when asked if the win proves Eagles belong at the elite level of UAE rugby, a debate that raged all summer among their peers after they were granted entry for the season by the UAE Rugby Federation.
“As do Sarries. They’re going through a rough time but they’ll bounce through it. They have a core group of fantastic players that are working hard for them and it’s fantastic for the Gulf.
“I think they’ll push on and I wish them all the best, they’re a good club. There’s a lot of similarities between us and them.”
As well as the defeat to Dragons, Eagles opened their season with an 85-8 loss at the hands of Dubai Exiles. Head coach Pat Benson is aware there are more ups and downs ahead for the Eagles, but knows their flight path is the real focus.
“There’s different priorities. Winning is not necessarily the main aim,” said Benson.
“It’s more about coming together and establishing what we’re trying to achieve. As we get better as a team the margins (of defeat) and the results will be closer, it’s about finding our feet within the league.
It might seem to others on the outside looking in that the club has sprung up out of nowhere, with little thought given to the long term. But Benson insists that is not the case and that Eagles have a dedicated team – including Coakley – who are planning to help Eagles stick around and ruffle a few more feathers.
“Conor’s doing a lot of work at the club, just making it a nice atmosphere for families to come down to,” added Benson.
“You’ve got Sean (Hurley, fly-half, a UAE international and Eagles director of rugby) putting in a lot of work behind the scenes and Josh Ives too, who is the head of the junior and minis.
“I’m very excited about the chance to work with Eagles. I feel week by week we’re becoming closer as a club and feel the guys are buying into our overall goal with effort at training.
“We’re just giving more guys more exposure to Premiership rugby and I’m proud of how the boys have trained so far. Morale’s high which hopefully means we’re not as nervous to try playing more and can piece more together.”
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