As the dust settles on Blair Riley’s move to Cardiff, Gary Jackson reflects on the reaction from the fanbase.
I’ve never been motivated to speak on the moving of an individual player, even last season when we had “Laddergate,” I just figured it is what it is. When the news officially broke last night I was in work and I made the mistake of going on twitter for a quick look, the levels some people were going to was nothing short of amazing, and not in the travelling through the worst snow in living memory to get to a cup final amazing, (more on that later).
I won’t claim the moral high ground on these people though, if any one was around me when Torres to Chelsea was officially announced they’d just call me a hypocrite if I did.
That’s what sport fans do. What does puzzle me however is, Riley to Cardiff was the worst kept secret in British hockey since the inception of the EIHL. People in work who have never been to a single game were asking me about the Giants captain moving to their biggest rivals. Perhaps all this served to do was give people time to practice their witty quips and get more and more angry.
I never or rarely at least, get involved in conversations about which player gets paid what amount in what team, the truth is as fans, we just do not know. If you hear figures bandied about, stop and ask yourself what is the motivation of the person telling you, and really, what relevance does it have?
I’ve heard 3 different stories about the new wage packet Riley will be receiving in Wales, from a massive 3 times what the Giants best offer to him was, to 3 times his salary last season, to somewhere in the region of 15k a week, I’ve even heard that every player signed by the Giants thus far, still don’t earn as much as Riley will!!! Fair play to him, none of us would find it easy to turn down even the most meagre of these scenarios.
This is where it gets interesting though, several seasons ago Todd Kelman poached Jon Pelle from Cardiff Devils, Pelle was considered the best player in the league the season before, scored 100 goals and was generally considered Maradona on skates. At the time Kelman told the AVFTB boys, that it was a no brainer, it made the Giants stronger, but just as importantly it made the Devils weaker. For context this was right in the middle of the Big Blue Tent fiasco years for the Devils, they were not contenders. If Killer was that ruthless against a team that was not a direct rival of course he would, given half a chance, do it against his teams biggest obstacle to total dominance.
Now I’ve already said Riley isn’t the best player in the league, he wasn’t the best player on the Giants roster, but he was our captain. Killer identified the Giants would be forced into a massive overhaul this off season having to replace veteran players such as Shields and Vandameer. It was likely that Besko was moving on, Darcy Murphy likewise, the young players who came straight from leagues such as the AHL who were open about Belfast being the shop window, winning a domestic treble in their first season would be hard to keep hold off.
Why not add to that?
Throw the Giants a curve ball by taking their captain, a player most assumed would be staying? If the Devils have money to burn it’s a no brainer. However, Kelman is smart. He’s not going to throw money at a player that doesn’t add something to his team. There are faster players out there, more skilful players out there, bigger players out there, tougher players out there, smarter players out there, you get the picture? Neil Russell might describe Riley as having “the X Factor”.
Except, Riley’s “X Factor,” can be quantified. Riley gives the Devils something that despite their domestic dominance in recent times they have lacked since Lord retreated behind the bench, on ice leadership.
On ice leadership cannot and should not be underestimated, in a team of veterans and leaders, Riley wore the C for the Giants, and should do the same for Cardiff next season. Challenge cup final last season, with the snow, Giants went into that game as MASSIVE underdogs. We travelled in hope rather than expectation. An average Giants team, beat an otherwise all conquering Cardiff team, in their home barn. That doesn’t happen if Cardiff have strong leadership.
Now that’s an over simplification, there were other factors, “Slay Giants,” the adversity the team and fans conquered just to be in Wales, the fantastic away support of the Teal and White all played a part. This season, the Giants were better than average, they were very very good, we were toe to toe with the Devils, as tight as two coats of paint for most of the season. We all know that the Devils had an insurmountable 11 point lead with only a handful of games to go, they couldn’t lose. And yet, we dragged them back and made the last weekend of the season a live weekend. Again, I put that down to a wanting of leadership when the going got tough.
Cardiff went into the final game of the season against a poor Coventry Blaze knowing a single point, an overtime loss, would secure the historic “three-peat”. Yet their players froze. Choked. Call it what you will, this was a team who had dispatched the Champions elect 8-1, had dominated the league table the previous two seasons, yet they couldn’t scrape a draw against a poor team playing for pride only. Kelman will have seen what I seen, and has made moves to address this issue.
It makes us weaker no doubt about it, and it adds to an already impressive talent pool in Cardiff.
Riley is a classy man though and in telling the Giants early doors his intention was to leave Belfast some of the disruption and effect of the loss will be mitigated, giving us plenty of time to find a replacement, or replacements. In the 19/20 season of EIHL, Cardiff have struck the first blow no doubt about it, it’s over to Keefe, Thorts and their staff to see what we do next.
As my friend Sarah eloquently put it, “we are Belfast Giants fans not Blair Riley fans!”
Gary got in touch with us to share his thoughts by e-mailing us a KotG.
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Words: Gary Jackson
Picture: William Cherry / PressEye
Video: Belfast Giants TV