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On duty . . . Duncan Kingan keeps an eye on North Otago's game against Poverty Bay last weekend. PHOTO: PHIL JANSSEN

Behind every good rugby team, there is a good manager. And North Otago has been lucky to have had some very fine managers over the years. Running the ship at the Old Golds again this season is Five Forks farmer Duncan Kingan, who reflects on his time in the role with Hayden Meikle

Q: How long have you been a manager of the North Otago team?
This is my 11th season. I came on board when Gerard McCarthy and Murray Pearson were thinking of giving up. So there were actually three of us for that one season. I was just learning. Gerard gave up the next season but Murray stayed on. Then I had two or three seasons on my own. Graham Pitches was on board last year, and I’m back on my own this year.

Q: What has been the highlight of that time?
Just meeting so many good people, especially in the rugby community. People from all over the world. One year, we had 12 different nationalities in the squad. It was the United Nations, ha ha. And winning some trophies has been a bonus when you consider the size of our union. I think we’ve got the record for most consistently being in semifinals. That’s a pretty good effort for a small place.

Q: Any major drama or memorable incidents?
Oh, there are always different things happening. You get to the airport and find flights have been cancelled, and you’ve always got to be thinking one step ahead. It’s not easy sometimes. The players can go away and have a coffee but you need to be on to your checklist.

Q: Most important part of the job?
Getting everybody safely away, and safely home again. That’s my job. You try to create a family environment and you have a responsibility to get these young men back to their families. I call that my core role.

Q: Is it difficult when you’re with a Heartland rugby team that regularly has 10-12 new players every year?
It’s energising for me. A lot of the boys are new to me, though I might have seen them playing club rugby. It’s about making friends with them, getting them on side. We get messages from former players who are back overseas. That’s always nice. I remember an Irish bloke we had. I gave him a Highlanders jersey, and he cried. He was so emotional because he’d never been given something like that. We try to make a thing around birthdays. Have a bit of fun, get them a card and a wee present. Just keep that family feeling going. I say to the boys that my door is always open.

Q: Which Heartland rugby town is your favourite to visit?
Ruatoria is actually really good. The meals up there are fantastic. You couldn’t name any wildlife that wasn’t on the table. A whole crayfish each. The overseas players’ mouths just drop. I like the West Coast too.

Q: Time for the manager to make a prediction. Where will North Otago end up this season?
We’ll be in the Meads Cup. It’s in our hands now. It’s there for the taking for the boys. We haven’t seen the best out of our team yet, and when they do reach that point, I feel sorry for the team that is playing us.