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Glasgow Hawks' spirits soaring as they set their sights on new heights

They were first out of the blocks in their homeland when it came to adapting to the new demands of professional rugby, but Glasgow Hawks know that the far-sighted proposals devised by their former chairman, Brian Simmers, back in the second half of the 1990s, were too radical for a sport still in thrall to the "Aye Been" mentality.

Neil Herron of Glasgow Hawks makes a break. Picture: SNS/SRU
Neil Herron of Glasgow Hawks makes a break. Picture: SNS/SRU

Thankfully, the tide has turned away from internecine warfare towards something approaching grassroots glasnost. Perhaps there was no other option: after all, some Scottish clubs had been drinking in the last-chance saloon for so long they were in danger of permanent befuddlement. But, finally, as we prepare for the launch of the BT Premiership, there seems to be a renewed sense of people looking forward to the party.

Jamie Dempsey is one of the new breed of coaches with an appreciation that living in the past is the surest means of struggling in the future, but the Hawks mentor recently cast his eyes over a video of the team in action when he first arrived at Anniesland seven years ago. And it was a revelation.

"There is no doubt about it, the standard and the structure has improved markedly since these days and we now have more and more guys who are perfectly capable of making the move up to semi-pro and professional rugby," said Dempsey, whose side were fifth in the top flight last season. "It has been a fraught few years, both for the economy and in terms of the SRU having financial difficulties, and the clubs suffered as a consequence, but with BT and other sponsors getting involved in the game, and Murrayfield speaking the same language as us once again, I think there is a real sense of optimism around.

"Everything's not going to change for the better overnight - and I know some clubs are still facing real problems in the west of Scotland and other parts of the country - but you can see people getting excited again and the job now is to keep the smiles on their faces in the months ahead."

Hawks launch their campaign with a tough-looking trip to Heriot's and they could hardly have asked for a more gruelling itinerary during the first month of the competition, but Dempsey is ready to make peace with the schedulers, on the basis that his personnel won't win anything unless they hit the ground running. In any case, considering their improvement throughout last winter's action, he has ample reason for confidence.

"This league is going to be hard-fought from day one, and we will certainly be tested by playing the top four clubs in last season's Premiership [Melrose, Gala, Ayr and Heriots] in the opening month of the competition. But we have to rise to the challenge and we defeated three of these sides in the second half of the title battle last winter, so we have the potential to get the better of anybody," said Dempsey.

"We will not be changing our style, because we are doing our best to play a brand of cavalier, attacking rugby, and we have plenty of lads with the qualities to test any opponents. One thing we do have to improve on is closing out tight matches and getting over the line.

"At the end of the first half of the 2013-14 Premiership, we had played all our rivals and our biggest loss was only by a margin of five points in these [nine] contests, so we are definitely in the mix. But we have to keep performing until the last kick and, if we can manage to do that, I have faith in my squad."

Ayr, for their part, have a new coaching triumvirate of former captain Calum Forrester, the steely Glen Tippett and the peripatetic Scott Forrest, the latter of whom has done sterling work on behalf of so many different organisations throughout his career. These fellows are gnarled warriors, a group of redoubtable hombres who have pretty much witnessed everything in the sport, and you wouldn't fancy walking into a changing room to meet one of them, let alone three, if you had offered less than 100%.

So it's fair to assume that Millbrae will remain a place where lily-livered visitors fear to tread.

They commence hostilities against Gala, the same adversaries whose title ambitions they extinguished in such cruel fashion at Netherdale just four months ago. So there is unlikely to be much summer love flying around in Burns country this weekend.

But that's as it should be. Hawks and Ayr have different histories altogether. But they are equally determined to wrest the balance of power away from the Borders and Edinburgh.

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