Unfortunately John Mulvihill’s time at Cardiff Blues came to a rather understated end this week as he left his role as head coach after two-and-half-years in the position.
When it comes to looking back on his time at the Arms Park the stats may well not be kind to the Australian, who departs with a winning percentage of 47% from his 60 games in charge – only Phil Davies has worse. We’ve finished 5th and 6th in the conference in his two full seasons, and are only currently 4th due to others having games cancelled by coronavirus.
However, I have a strong suspicion that history will view Mulvihill’s spell in Cardiff kindly as, in my humble opinion, he leaves the squad in a much healthier position for the long-term than he found it.
I wrote earlier in the week about how John never got a fair crack of the whip while at the Arms Park, and whatever the circumstances around his departure he has every right to feel a bit pissed off about the way things have panned out and missing out on the chance to properly build the team in his image after a late appointment, Project Reset and the coronavirus pandemic got in his way.
Despite that though I think he can be proud of what he managed to achieve what was one of the most turbulent periods in Cardiff and Welsh rugby history. Yes there were times where I wished we would be a bit more innovative in the way we played, making use of our talented backs and the skill levels within the forwards, but overall I think the majority of coaches would have struggled to get more out of the squad.
Few would have been able to salvage competitiveness in a squad that said goodbye to three British and Irish Lions in Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees and Sam Warburton, two talismanic overseas forwards in Fa’ao Filise and Nick Williams, and saw a Wales captain in Ellis Jenkins sidelined for two years, especially with all the economic restrictions.
What he leaves though is a playing group with a strong core of seriously talented young players with a good level of experience that belies their years. To list them all would be far too time consuming, but take a spin down the Cardiff Blues players list and the amount of players under the age of 26 who have either been given their first senior outings or become first choice players under Mulvihill is very impressive.
With the amount of league games reducing, the squad is now arguably only three players away from being properly competitive, whereas there have been times over the last few years where that number has been closer, if not in, double figures. If we can get our recruitment right this window and kick on from here, Mulvihill’s era will be the springboard from which we took off.
As well as his work, he also leaves with my memory of him being a solidly good bloke. I can only speak as I find, and John was very good to and appreciative of supporters throughout his time at the club, always taking time to stop, chat and have a picture taken around the ground.
Of course we all saw the moving footage of Nick Williams’ mother being brought over to Cardiff to see her son play last Christmas, but the story that sticks out for me is on the away trip to Pau earlier that December.
After a French air traffic control strike forced flight alterations that necessitated a car hire after landing in a different airport than originally planned, we eventually made it for Pau only for a storm to cause the game to be delayed from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.
Having noticed on Twitter that a group of us had made it, John took the time to message Laura from our group informing us the game had been called off and then when it was re-arranged to, which was a great help as we were flying back late on the Saturday so may have had to make alternative arrangements depending on the outcome.
Very few head coaches would have taken the time to think of supporters when trying to ensure their squad were ready for a game, and that will stick with me long after Mulvihill returns to Australia.
Unfortunately we won’t be able to give John an Arms Park send off, but I wish him and his family all the best in the future. They are welcome back anytime. Once a Cardiff Blue, always a Cardiff Blue!