There’s a distinct feeling that in the history of Cardiff Blues, 2019 will very much be the year that failed to live up to the heights of 2018.
With the unbeaten run at the start of 2018, the second European Challenge Cup victory in Bilbao and then the return of Cardiff Blues to the Heineken Champions Cup, it was a brilliant 12 months at the Arms Park and one that will be long remembered.
It was always going to be a tough act to follow though, and 2019 has certainly found that out the hard way, as we largely limped through the last 12 months, experiencing the odd high on the way but largely being left with a feeling of mediocrity.
Starting the year already knocked out of the Heineken Champions Cup meant that January was largely a non-competitive month, and while a good performance away at Glasgow and a home win over Lyon ended that pool stage campaign on a high, it was all about setting us up for a run on the Guinness Pro14 play-offs during the Six Nations period.
Bonus points taken from another clash with Glasgow, before a comeback win over Edinburgh and impressive performances against Scarlets and Southern Kings at home put us right in contention, but as ever it was the hope that kills you and defeats against Munster, Connacht and Ospreys saw us miss out on the post-season action again.
Of course a lot of that was done against the back drop of the shambles that was Project Reset, as the Welsh Rugby Union and the Professional Rugby Board attempted to create a new funding model for Welsh rugby but were so inept in their doing so that all it ended up with was the status quo.
Mergers and different levels of funding for competitive and development regions were all floated, but in the end we had the same budget for the summer of 2019 as we did for the summer of 2018, but it was too late to properly strengthen the areas of the squad we required.
Josh Adams and Hallam Amos were quality signings, Jason Tovey was a requirement to fill a gap left by the departures of Gareth Anscombe and Steve Shingler, while Will Boyde no doubt had talent, but none were big and physical front five players arriving to boost a pack that had found themselves bullied in the second half of the previous season.
There was also some saying goodbye to fan favourites and legends, as Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees, George Earle, Blaine Scully and Tom James were among the players who headed for retirements or pastures new over the summer.
A squad with plenty of attacking talent but without the necessary grunt is what started the 2019/20 campaign, and so it came to pass that the hope would kill us again.
The Rugby World Cup provided a great chance for Cardiff Blues to get points on the board early in the Pro14 season having not been as impacted by international call-ups as other teams, but unfortunately four losses in the first five games of the season left John Mulvihill’s men playing catch up.
Towards the back end of the year results have improved though, with four straight wins in the Pro14 and seven points from two games against Pau, keeping hopes of league play-off and European knockout qualifications alive.
Young players Corey Domachowski, Liam Belcher, Keiron Assiratti, Shane Lewis-Hughes, James Botham and Ben Thomas have become regular first team squad members, while there are a number of senior players in line to make an impact at international level in the upcoming Six Nations.
With budgets agreed for next season recruitment and retention is well underway, and with a feeling that the squad is only a few signings off being very competitive, the end of the year is certainly much more positive than the start of it.
Here’s to that continuing into 2020!