A WEEK of high drama at the Cornish Pirates ended with the news that the Stadium for Cornwall project, which was given outline planning permission by Cornwall Council last month, has been delayed meaning that it will not be ready for the start of the 2012-13 domestic rugby season.
The Cornish Pirates have abandoned plans for promotion to the Aviva Premiership this season and will no longer consider a ground share with Plymouth Argyle Football Club at Home Park.
Club owner Dicky Evans has, however, given assurances that the project is still very much on course and that the necessary funding is in place but everything now hinges on Cornwall Council approving the linked housing development when they meet on January 12.
He warned: "We need the support of the politicians now because without housing there is no stadium."
High Performance Manager Chris Stirling is in his third year in charge of the coaching operation at the club and he has been offered a sabbatical while the Stadium project proceeds and the team seek promotion to the top flight.
He has yet to commit to the offer but has assured supporters that in any case he will see out his existing three-year deal at the Pirates which expires at the end of the season.
Following Sunday's cup win over Cross Keys he explained how a dramatic week had unfolded for him. He said: "During the weekend when we were up in Leeds, things started to unfold and I had been asked to keep things quiet which was very hard when I was travelling away on a coach with the whole squad.
"Post-match we knew that something either had or was about to be announced and I needed to speak to the team. They were low enough in the changing room after the disappointment of Leeds snatching victory at the end, and at that stage we were very unsure as to what was happening."
He added: "I met Dicky (Evans) early last week and it was really positive. He is absolutely focused on supporting this and making sure that it comes through, so there is a real positive vibe.
"Yes, there will be changes for next season and the Premiership is not possible at the end of this season, but this dream is still alive. It's just going on hold for a period."
Stirling explained that the chance to take a break with his family came out of the blue and said: "For myself, I didn't know what was going to happen and I was flattered to be offered a sabbatical which basically means I can go back to New Zealand to do some work and be with my family for a while. When things start to take shape here, Dicky wants me back on board.
"While I am over there I will still be involved and if that is what happens then I will more than likely be back two or three times throughout the season."
Fellow coaches Ian Davies and Harvey Biljon would take control of day-to-day coaching affairs in his absence and Stirling has no concerns over this proposed arrangement.
He explained: "Ian and Harvey have been involved in the decision making right throughout the process so that when one of the cogs is away the wheels still turn.
"I still have a lot of decisions to make in respect of saying that if I commit to Dicky and the Pirates then I will do it. What I don't want to do is say yes to the sabbatical and going back to New Zealand and then six or eight months down the track it doesn't happen and I let people down.
"It's a fantastic offer and more than anything I want to finish the job. We can become a Premiership club and I have to make sure that everything is in place. Dicky understands that and we will see what happens."
What the fans think ...
Rob Nicholls (Nottingham) – "The rumour mill was working overtime following Dicky's statement and many of us feared that the dream was over. However, if anyone can make it a reality it is Dicky Evans.
"I am certain that his commitment and tenacity will get us to the promised land, assuming Cornwall Council seizes this wonderful opportunity.
"And then we learn that Stirlo's going home! I was speechless, but understand his reasoning. He is without doubt the best thing to have happened to the club in the professional era. An inspiring leader, a consummate professional and like Dicky, never too big to shake your hand and have a chat.
"Clearly next season is the one that counts and without Stirlo it will be a big ask of Ian, Harvey, Simon and the squad, but I think they are hungry for it. It's never dull being a Pirate!"
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Martin Woollatt (Troon) – "Over the last three seasons we have witnessed a sea change at the Pirates to the point where, we can truly believe they are capable of going all the way to the top.
"Aside from the obvious philanthropy from Dicky Evans (without which none of this would be possible – as would be the case elsewhere); this is due to the combined efforts of all three of the coaching team.
There's been more than a fair share of circumnavigation but, given the building blocks now in place both on and off the pitch then, I feel confident that the latest delay and the proposed sabbatical for Chris Stirling, shouldn't pose too much of a problem."
"We'll miss Chris while he's away tying up any loose ends to make what I expect to be a permanent move to Cornwall, ultimately, but Ian and Harvey will juggle those balls more than competently. The Pirates are their 'baby' too. The adventure hasn't even begun!"
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Bill Hooper (Redruth fan and local rugby writer) – "The news this week that the Stadium for Cornwall project is likely to be delayed by 12 months or so is a major blow, not just to the Cornish Pirates and the other partners in the project, but also to the fans and supporters who have all worked very hard to get this much needed facility off the ground in Cornwall.
"I just hope that the green light will finally be given so that the building work can get under way. I think that when we finally see the stadium taking shape then that will be the great thing.
"For me the stadium is far more important than the London Olympics, this will have a real legacy for us in Cornwall for years to come.
"I am delighted that despite the fact that Chris Stirling will be on a sabbatical for 12 months he will be coming back to the Pirates, just think of all the Kiwis he can sign up!"
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Stu Hoy (Lichfield, Staffs) – "For too many years the Cornish have always had to anticipate and prepare for the onset of a storm, decisions from afar, and a world which sometimes they did not want!
"The Cornish have always had to wait, for fishermen returning, the daily nature of the ebbing tide, and their Jacks and Jinnys homeward bound! The Cornish have had very little to enjoy!
"So my fellow Cornish, time at last to celebrate in these austere times! The re-opening of South Crofty, the success of The Hall for Cornwall and the University of Cornwall, coupled with our wonderful singing! The emergence of the poignancy of March 5. So born and bred Cornish, Davy, Trevithick, Billy Bray, Rouse and the thousands of tin miners who showed the way at home and beyond our shores, are now joined by current entrepreneurs that include Stein and Smit at Heligan and Eden."
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Tony Wootton (near Penzance) – "For the true supporter the glass is always half full, or better, but never half empty. Every challenge must be seen as an opportunity and this latest turn of events has benefits for those who look for them.
"A chance to welcome to our brand new Stadium for Cornwall some of those Championship clubs and their Supporters with whom we have shared many competitive afternoons is one. A chance for our players to get used to the new environment and playing conditions before having to take on the might of the Premiership is another.
"If I have one regret is for those players heading towards the twilight of their careers whose opportunity for rugby at the top level may have been taken away."
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Piers Owen (Cornish Pirates Supporters' Club) – "We were extremely pleased to be reassured by Dicky about the Pirates' future, and very impressed by his, and his team's, calm management of a changing situation.
"Putting that together with the clear commitment of Chris Stirling and Co and a playing squad of great characters, Pirates supporters can consider themselves very lucky indeed."