ANTHONY MURRAY says he ‘couldn’t ask for anymore’ from North Wales Crusaders as they came agonisingly close to League One Shield glory.
In Sunday’s Shield final, Crusaders trailed hosts’ and hot favourites Newcastle Thunder 24-6 at half-time but sparked into life in the second-half to move to within four points of their unbeaten opponents.
But a 79th minute drop goal from Ben Hardcastle proved decisive as Newcastle claimed a 31-26 success to lift the trophy, but departing head coach Murray explained he was delighted with the application of his players at Kingston Park.
“I couldn’t have asked for anymore from the lads, I thought they were exceptional second half,” he said.
“We gave ourselves a mountain to climb first-half, going in 24-6 down it looked like being game over. But we fought back fantastically well and if one or two chances had just gone our way, we’d have won the game with a converted try.
“Fair play to Newcastle, they deserved it over the course of the Shield season, being unbeaten throughout, and on the balance of the whole game they probably just shaded it.
“At the end of the day we just didn’t quite do enough but it was a remarkable effort second half and I was very proud of the players.”
Murray described coaching the likes of Rob Massam, Tommy Johnson and Jonny Walker as ‘an honour’ and he expects several Crusaders’ regulars will now depart the club, given the doubts surrounding the financial stability of the The Racecourse outfit.
“Some of our players have over 100 appearances and a lot of experience, it’s been an honour to have been involved with players such as Tommy (Johnson), Rob (Massam) and Jonny Walker.
“For me as a young coach it’s been fantastic working with these players and they have been brilliant with me and responded to what I’ve asked of them.
“It was an emotional one for several players especially if they were playing their final game for Crusaders. Stephen Wild was playing his final game before retirement so obviously it was a big occasion for him.
“I think a few will move on, I’m not sure who. They will consider their best options but it will be a shame if the team is broken up, but that’s the position the club are.”
Murray revealed he has accepted an assistant coach role at fellow League One side Gloucestershire All Golds, and will begin his new role in December once his contract at Crusaders.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have the support of Alan (Hadcroft) and Adam (Daniels) as my backroom team but I’m ready for a new challenge now,” he continued.
“That challenge will be at Gloucestershire where I’m going to as an assistant coach.
“It’s a different challenge in a different environment with a development club who have lots of ambition. I want to be part of that journey and I’m a big fan of Lee Greenwood as a coach and I look forward to being part of an exciting new opportunity.”
A host of first-team regulars are now set to exit Crusaders, with the likes of Massam and Jack Hansen announcing they would be departing after the cup final defeat.
Massam posted on Facebook after the game that he would be leaving Crusaders, having scored his 98th Crusaders’ try in the final having racked up over 100 appearances since 2012.
“What a day, not because of the result but because of much more else,” he posted.
“As a team we’ve been through a roller coaster of emotions and being here from the start and seeing how it is now makes things that little bit harder.
“I’m not ashamed to say at full-time I had to wipe away the tears, it’s been an honour to play alongside my mates and under some top quality coaches.”
Hansen posted on Twitter that he had ‘loved every minute’ of his time at Crusaders and that he ‘couldn’t ask for a better bunch of lads to play rugby with’.