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Staying or going ? Chris Finch says his options are wide open

Mark Woods

With speculation about his future and a possible summer move southward to Birmingham, Sheffield Sharks coach Chris Finch has become a marked man even in the middle of what still could be a double-winning season. Still trailing in Manchester's wake in the Northern Conference race, Finch has already compiled a haul of League, Trophy and two Cups in three campaigns in the Yorkshire hot seat since stepping up from player to coach in 1997. 

But with so much rumour circulating around the American, we asked the man himself where he felt his 2001 destination will be. The answer, unsurprisingly, was not too committal.

"I'm proud that my name is being linked with position around the league," concedes the man who is doing for pullovers what Bob Donewald did for orange suits. 

"At the moment, I have not been offered another contract from the club. They want to keep me in Sheffield and I'd like to stay in Sheffield but it's about what the future holds. I've been here seven years, it's been seven great years and I've had a lot of success. But can we keep going in the right direction ? 

"Hopefully we will and we can come to an agreement on that. But sometimes you have to consider other options when you think your life needs a new challenge or a change of scenery."

Much of Finch's supposed desire to depart Sheffield has stemmed from the club's reluctance to enter into European competition on the back of their recent domestic successes. A sensible move for the organisation itself but one which is perhaps at odds with the ambitions of their team chief. 

Although Sharks have investigated the possibility of joining the NEBL, with London Towers and Manchester Giants apparently in a two-horse race for one spot, it could leave Sharks and Finch out in the cold.

"I've made no secret that I'd like to test my skills in Europe and test the team's skills in Europe," Finch related. "If Birmingham wants to play in Europe and they want me that would be great. 

"But I'm not just going to walk away from all that makes Sheffield a success because, one day when hopefully I return to America or elsewhere with a different club, I'll take some of the secrets of that success with me. But for moment, we have 14 games left towards winning a Championship and that's what I'm concentrating on."

On the court, seven straight victories have worked the Yorkshire out of an uncharacteristic slump with their latest road win at Towers underlining that it still largely remains a private Northern battle to be the best of the regular season. With Terrell Myers back in full flow, Finch reckons that his pre-season ambitions of at least equalling last year's achievements are firmly on track.

"I'm just trying to get my guys to peak. I don't think we have peaked yet. We played really well in the first half of the season, offensively and defensively. 
Coming back from the break, we're now dropping the shots which we weren't doing the past two months. Through February, we played better defence and if I can get the two together, we're fine." 

Nonetheless, although he will not concede absolute glory to the Giants just yet, Finch is open about the odds which are now stacked against his team in the Great North run. But with no league title at stake, does it really matter ?

The Sheffield play-caller hopes that when it comes to Wembley in May, it will be he who takes the spoils, and possibly a glorious swansong.

"We certainly feel we're strong enough to compete with everybody but I've looked at the Conference schedules for games that have to be played yet. Manchester have got four away games, more games at home with some easier teams to come in. 

Finch adds: "They have to play us twice but even if we take them twice, we'll probably end up on the wrong side of the points differential. So I still feel we have a lot of work to do to win the conference, even assuming we win two against them which we haven't been able to do all year. It's going to be tough. But I'm confident that at the end, we'll be ready."

Photo: Nick Johnson, Tip-Off

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