RYAN O’Neill admits there have been times over the last few weeks and months that he and husband Kaue Garcia wondered whether being co-owners of Keighley Cougars was worth the hassle.
The pair have come in for criticism and ridicule, with Keighley by far the most vocal against IMG’s plans to shape the future of rugby league, with last Wednesday’s vote on the changes going against the club’s wishes by a significant majority.
And though O’Neill insists this is yet another poor decision by the Rugby Football League Council, who he feels have been making “bad calls for the last 30 years”, Cougars are now willing to move on.
The key point is that automatic promotion and relegation will be axed between the Betfred Super League and the Championship from the end of next season, with clubs now needing to meet grading criteria to earn themselves a spot in the top-flight.
That includes things like fan engagement, stadium facilities and catchment area, with on-field performance only counting for 25 per cent of a club’s overall grade.
O’Neill told the Keighley News: “We’re democrats, so we’ve accepted the result of the vote, which went through pretty unanimously.
“We still think the system that’s been in place for years, where a Super League club’s vote counts double that of everyone else, is wrong, but the plans still would have been approved regardless.
“Now it’s just a case of seeing what the grading criteria is exactly.
“The IMG proposals going through have scuppered some of our plans, the main one being to reach Super League within five years.
“But we’ll now just see if we can start to tick the right boxes for the new grading criteria.”
Fifteen out of the 24 Championship and League 1 voted in favour of the plans, with O’Neill saying: “Obviously some of those in the second and third tier will tick boxes that are not performance-based.
“They can sneak their way up on a spreadsheet.
“I think others voted in favour because they were a little starstruck by IMG and some did because they felt there was no alternative.
“I think there should have been at least one alternative proposal to what was offered, and that the decision-making process should have taken longer.
“For me, some clubs didn’t really understand what they were voting for.”
Batley and Featherstone were two other Championship sides who voted with Keighley, and O’Neill said: “We’re happy that we stuck our necks out and said we felt it was unfair.
“People will remember that the likes of us, Batley and Featherstone stood up.
“We played at Batley in the Challenge Cup at the weekend and their fans were coming up to me and saying they backed our stance, so it was nice to have them behind us.
“Ultimately though, for all we feel this is another poor decision by the Rugby Football League Council, after 30 years of bad calls from them, we’re part of it, so we have to go along with the results of the vote.”
Asked if he and Garcia had thought of taking the nuclear option, and walking away from the club over this, O’Neill reflected: “I’m not going to lie, for the rest of the week after the vote, we felt flattened.
“But we had to put things in perspective. What options do the club have if we walk away? It could fold and die and we obviously don’t want that.
“The IMG vote has taken away a huge amount of the enthusiasm Kaue and I had for the sport, and it’s made our job, and the club’s, 10 times harder now.
“There were times we had wondered why we were doing all of this, and we were getting trolled constantly for our stance.
“But this is still a hobby for us, it’s just a hobby with a headache.”
“I will reiterate we are still here, and this club is part of my family history, present and future.”
Article by by Nathan Atkinson