THE EAGLES HAVE LANDED
by Andy McKenzie


The Newcastle Eagles - the team of the moment - have a warning for the rest of the Budweiser League: "Don't count us out!"

Despite seven early losses in the league, an 11-game win streak has got the team back amongst the leaders and Eagles' coach Craig Lynch hasn't ruled out their chances of taking the league title away from London. "It's still possible," he said. "The season is still early and we've got to play some tough teams. We've just got to go out and play like we have been and things will take care of themselves. But we're definitely the team to beat at the moment."

Craig Lynch While the veteran play-caller is confident of his side's chances of picking up some silverware this season, he admitted the team is already exceeding his expectations. "I started the season thinking about improving on what they did last year, which was seventh in the league. And I think we'll definitely do that. The ambition was to have a good cup run and make the play-offs. Anything can happen in the play-offs, injuries can be a factor and we have a strong bench which could prove vital. And the trophy's still alive for us."

Lynch surprisingly named Sheffield as the team to watch out for when the play-offs come around. "You've got to worry about Sheffield," he said. "They've got a lot of good players and they've added Amaechi. They're going to be scary if they get on a roll. But there are so many teams doing well, it's difficult to decide who you'd ideally like to play. But I know nobody wants to play us."

Lynch took over as Eagles' coach in the summer replacing Tom Hancock, who was forced to return to the States for family reasons. Newcastle also brought in six new players and the 43-year-old American believes he has an explanation for his side's inconsistent start to the season. "We had an expectation we were better than we were," he recalled. "But we hadn't put the work in and teams were beating us. So we put our heads down and we worked hard and we now seem to have caught up."

"We lost some games at home early on when we had a tough schedule back and forth, and it was kind of a cold atmosphere to start with. We needed to get some more fans in." As a team, we just weren't gelling, we were having problems. We didn't finish well or shoot well. We played OK defence and came back on a couple of teams, but couldn't finish them off. We're finishing much better now, and hitting our free-throws."

Lynch said one of the most satisfying aspects of the season was the way the team stayed together when things weren't going their way. "We had our problems, as did other teams, but we kept this team together," he added. "It could've been easy from a coaching point to get some new guys in. But we stuck with the players as long as we could and it's paid off. Our work ethic is real good and defensively we're pretty tough. We're still working on our offensive game but we'll get that right in time for the play-offs."

While Lynch is pleased with the progress the team has made on the court, he said the club are looking further ahead. "We are trying to build some sort of tradition here for Newcastle," he said. "Hopefully we can hold onto the players we've got and have more stability at the club and not have players come and go. It's a building process. We're hoping if people come and enjoy what they see, the effort, and what we're trying to do, we'll get a bigger core. We're competing with the football team to some extent, so it's difficult, but there are plenty of people out there and we'd like to be able to attract 3000 to the arena."

Lynch first played in England over 20 years ago, for Stockport, before going on to play for Hemel, Bracknell and then Sunderland. He took over the coaching reins at Sunderland after a spell as player- coach, leading the club to runners-up in the league in 1990, when the two parted company. "I was relatively successful," he said. "I left because of financial reasons and went to Saudi Arabia to coach for a while."

After coaching in Saudi, he returned to the north-east to work in mental health. He was persuaded to take over at Newcastle by the Eagles' General Manager Ken Nottage, who was a player under Lynch at Sunderland. "He told me the set up and I said 'give me a shot and we'll see what happens'. Kenny had faith in me and I think I've paid that back. It's still early but I think things are going as well as could be expected."


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