Coach Rob Wills: ‘Our goal all year was to win this division’.
This past Sunday, the Waterford Wolves clinched the IAFL-1 Championship title with victory over Munster rivals, the Cork Admirals. Despite being 12-0 down at half time, the Wolves clawed their way back in the second half to win 13-12 at Navan RFC to lift the trophy.
On what proved to be an exceptional day of football that also included the Belfast Trojans 2nd’s winning the IAFL-2 title, we caught up with Waterford Head Coach Rob Wills to get his thoughts on his teams historic moment.
A retired high school coach from Texas, Coach Wills has had a long but decorated career within American Football. He played football at Texas Tech (although he claims he was too dumb to know any better) before embarking on a thirty-two year coaching journey, which mostly included small areas within West Texas. He had coached a number of conference championship winning teams, but never won the state championship. He can however add the IAFL-1 championship to his CV.
‘It is very satisfying’, Coach Wills said speaking of his teams win. ‘To see the faces of the players after Sunday’s victory makes it all worth while’.
The Wolves entered halftime of the game on the back foot, trailing by 12 points to a strong Cork outfit. Waterford had lost the last two outings against the Admirals, but in a final event; anything was possible.
‘At the end of the first half even though we missed a great opportunity to score, I sensed that the momentum had shifted. All we had to do was make a few minor adjustments and we could get back in the game. The biggest obstacle was our confidence’.
The Admirals were the form team throughout the season, finishing a solid (7-1) in regular season and had on paper the best offence and defence to any team in the division. So it was fair to say the Wolves were considered the ‘underdogs’ heading into the game. Coach Wills believed that the tag worked to their advantage.
‘We had nothing to lose but at the same time we had something to prove. The lopsided loss to them earlier in the year was humiliating but at the same time, it was the team’s motivation to make it to the finals for a rematch.’
Shutting down Steve Hayes and co. would have been of upmost importance during the game. With that under consideration, Wills was able to devise a plan that would ultimately stop the Cork offence.
‘We knew we had to make them beat us running the football. We thought we matched up well with them up front but we were out matched in the secondary due to the height difference. Therefore, we left two half safeties over the top and mixed man under coverage with zone under (cover 2). Then we played mind-games up front with our Defensive-Line to confuse their O-Line and put pressure on their QB. We executed it well and were able to hold them to only two scores.’
Many often wonder what goes on or what is said in the changing rooms at halftime during games in order to provoke a better second half performance. That is when the leaders in the team step up. Coach Wills firmly believed his team could win, but he trusted his players to find a response; and they did.
‘I quietly challenged them to step up and take the game. No that’s not true at all. I went off on them in a controlled, calculated “old school” fashion. My three sons who all played for me call it “vintage Coach Wills.” I can’t say that was the difference but I do know they responded. I told Ryan (Byrne) to stick with our script when he calls plays. I did not follow that rule and called a play on the goal line that cost us the go ahead TD early in the fourth quarter. That did not phase the team. They continued to play hard and were able to overcome my lack of judgement (stupidity) to come back and score late.’
So with the IAFL-1 championship in the bag, the Wolves can set their sights on an automatic return to the top flight to compete in the Shamrock Bowl Conference once again. The ‘Wolf Pack’ can now enjoy a well-deserved break from their hardships of a long but successful season, before they plan for life in the SBC next season.
‘Our goal all year was to win this division and get back to the SBC. We were not ready in 2014 to compete at that level. The year’s experience back down will help. Our biggest obstacle is numbers. We need a good recruitment drive during the offseason to get our numbers up. It would be really nice to be able to platoon instead of playing both sides of the ball. Depth is the key to success at the SBC level.
Congratulations to the Wolves!