Since the Kiwi player-coach arrived at the Inverurie-based club towards the end of the summer, the Kellands Park outfit have embarked on a remarkable sequence of 10 consecutive wins which have propelled them to the top of the second tier in the RBS Caledonia League.
Neal, one of life's affable figures and who prefers the carrot to the stick, refuses to take personal credit for these exploits, which have included successes against such opponents as Moray, Banff, Ross Sutherland, Aberdeen University and Lochaber, the last of whom were brushed aside 40-0 last weekend. Whether in his praise for the unstinting, behind-the-scenes endeavours of the club's president, Colin McRobbie, Neal's Australian co-coach, Peter Firth, or the labours of the captain, Laird Parker, a 40-year-old prop who still pumps iron and lifts weights in the gym three nights every week, there is a sense of excitement around Garioch.
Although they realise life might grow tougher in the future, they are ready to embrace the challenge. "It has been exciting to be involved, and there is a buzz about the club, because it isn't just the 1st XV who have been performing well," Neal said. "Our Seconds have produced some good displays, and we have also seen an increase in the numbers of kids who come along to training and are involved in the minis.
"Ten out of 10 is pretty decent by anybody's standards, but we haven't always had it our own way, a couple of matches have been very close.
"Yet you notice the confidence growing, and, despite only being having been here for a few months, I am upbeat about what is going on."
Garioch are adherents of the "whole club" philosophy, where the volunteers, who plough away at the grassroots, are viewed as being every bit as important as the 1st XV players, and McRobbie is proud of the missionary work that has been carried out in recent years.
"We have a full-time rugby development officer, and, allied to the efforts of Ross and Peter, we have introduced rugby to 3000 children in the area, and have created strong ties with schools in Inverurie, Alford, Kemnay and Old Meldrum," he said. "We appreciate that many of these youngsters are more interested in football, but plenty of them love their rugby too. If even a small number join Garioch in the years ahead, then it helps us to prepare the next generation.
"We have a women's side up and running, and the aim is to get as many people involved with Garioch as possible. Obviously, it helps, in the short term, that we have achieved these 10 wins in a row – it has never happened here before – but we are planning for the next stage, and the one after that."
For Neal and Firth, that means trying to maintain their charges' momentum before the league splits into two, whereupon Garioch will strive to remain at the summit and qualify for a play-off tussle against the Midlands champions.
"There is a real determination to keep pushing and make things happen, and the lads have shown a terrific attitude and commitment this season, whether training or playing," said Parker, who turns 41 next month, but wants to stay a pivotal figure in the scrum. I don't know how much longer I will carry on, but I am enjoying my sport as much as ever. And when you see the crowds swelling every Saturday and the mini sessions packed out with more than 100 kids at weekends, it is very encouraging for everybody at Garioch."
PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK
Aberdeenshire were anticipating a stern challenge from second-placed Caithness as they sought to record their 10th straight win in the RBS Caledonia League. In the event, Eric Strachan's side powered to a resounding 53-3 victory at Woodside, to increase their lead in the championship to an imposing 13 points.
Another week brought another defeat for the RBS Premiership holders, Melrose, this time against Currie. It looks like the silverware will be heading elsewhere this season.