New era on the horizon as Ospreys director Mike Cuddy wants an end to Neath RFC spat
MIKE Cuddy wants to end his estrangement from Neath RFC and play an active role in the club again.
It is the first time in half a decade for the Ospreys managing director to publicly declare his readiness to assist the Welsh All Blacks.
A well-publicised spat between him and former Gnoll chairman Geraint Hawkes ended up in the High Court and left relations so strained that Cuddy has since stayed away from The Gnoll.
But with Hawkes relinquishing the chairmanship earlier this year, the picture has changed.
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Cuddy has since spoken to Hawkes's successor Phil Davies and there are plans afoot to play Adam Jones's testimonial game at The Gnoll, with one of Cuddy's companies sponsoring the game.
A new era beckons, one that Cuddy hopes will benefit Neath.
"I want to do what I can to support the club," said Cuddy.
"I have spoken to Phil Davies about finding ways to help Neath move forward.
"What has happened has happened; no-one will be helped by looking back. The key now is to do what is in the best interest of the club. I'm a businessman and I know how hard it is out there. If there are issues, it's a question of working through them. I want to build bridges."
The Welsh Rugby Union had already indicated the Ospreys and Neath had to reassess their relationship under the participation agreement the region signed up to.
Revealing plans to restructure the Premiership and leave the Ospreys with four semi-pro clubs to help them develop players — Swansea, Neath, Bridgend and Aberavon — the governing body made a point last November of reminding the regions of their obligations towards those underpinning them.
A union statement at the time ran: "All the feeder clubs from the Premiership attached to the four regions will have to be treated equally within the requirements of the agreement."
When relations between the region and Neath were at their most glacial, The Gnoll club effectively found themselves on the wrong end of an Ospreys player embargo.
It says much for them that they still managed to consistently finish in the top half of the Premiership table, even winning the title in 2010.
But life has been getting progressively tougher, and it is overdue for their relationship with the region to be put on a fresh footing.
The Ospreys offered an olive branch towards the end of last season when chief operations officer Andrew Hore spoke of his desire for the long-standing rift to be healed. "We all hope the issues will be resolved soon," said Hore.
"We know there are elements in that club that want to be involved with the Ospreys, and the Ospreys know they need to have Neath involved."
That isn't to suggest Cuddy's motivation for improving links with the club is purely pragmatic. As someone whose association with Neath stretches back over two decades, he has an attachment to them that he values.
"The past few years have saddened me," he said.
"It's been a bitter time and it has been too long since I last saw Neath play at The Gnoll.
"I had some great times there, some of my most enjoyable in rugby, and the club are still close to my heart.
"The structure of the Welsh game has changed, but I still want Neath to do well."
A Gnoll testimonial game for Adam Jones would be seen as a hugely positive step in terms of building bridges between the Ospreys and Neath.
The great prop is an authentic Ospreys icon, a player who has spent close on a decade with the region and shown his loyalty to them by resisting lucrative offers to play abroad.
But he is also a hero at Neath, where he cut his teeth on the senior scene. He has been known to attend the Gnoll to watch the Welsh All Blacks play when he has a free Saturday, and he still has friends at the club.
The plan is for an Adam Jones XV to take on Neath. It may not be the return of the Ospreys to The Gnoll, but the prop's team is likely to contain many of their players and the probability is the occasion will attract a full house.