HAVING spent 15 months away, travelling the world, Jamie Folan admits that he faces a battle to regain the number two shirt that he once considered his own.
The 24-year-old, a product of the Basingstoke youth system, was a first-team regular for several seasons before departing on his travels in the summer of 2011.
He spent three months in Asia before moving on to Australia and New Zealand for a year, returning to Basingstoke at the end of November.
His absence forced ’Stoke to field other players in Folan’s favoured hooker position, and he returned to discover Lloyd Staszkiewicz, Jon Bird and Steve Osborne were all ahead of him in the pecking order.
The number two shirt is now one of the most sought-after jerseys at the club – and Folan accepts that he may have to be patient in order to win it back.
“It is going to be tough to get back into the side,” he said. “There is so much competition for every position now, but especially at hooker, where there are four of us who are good enough to play for the first team.
“I have been out of the game for a while so it’s going to be a case of turning up to training, being patient and waiting for my chance. I’m not fully fit yet, certainly not to the level I was at a couple of years ago, before I went travelling.
“The seconds are going really well and are top of their league. I’m happy to play for them if that’s what the coaches decide, but I’m determined to make that number two shirt my own again.”
Having been away for the first year of James Croker’s reign at Down Grange, Folan is well placed to explain how things have changed – and he has certainly been impressed with the way Croker has transformed the club’s fortunes.
“It’s a big difference to the last season I was involved in,” Folan added. “Back then, we were struggling to put out a first team but now we are getting three teams out most weeks, and sometimes four.
“The club is in a good place at the moment, with the coaches, mentality of the players and numbers. We have the foundations to go up a level and be competitive.
“Last time we went up, we had a good first 18 players capable of playing for the first team, but below that we were struggling. Now we have got at least 30 players who can step into the first team.
“The level of competition is great and a big part of that is down to the coaches. They are really good and everyone just wants to be involved at training.
“A couple of years ago, training was not great and neither was the squad management. Now, even at this time of the year, when people tend to drift off, we are still getting 30 guys at training every session.”
Folan made his return to first-team action away at Haywards Heath last weekend, helping the team to a bonus point victory.
“I was a replacement but probably played just under 60 minutes and it went pretty well,” he said. “The whole team is really strong. We have a lot of talent throughout the squad so it is easy to fit in and pick up from where the last guy left off.
“It seems to have got to the point where, without being arrogant, the guys have got that belief that they can go out and get wins. We just have to be patient, keep performing and the bonus points will come.
“Against Haywards Heath, we got three tries quite quickly. We knew that we needed one more but we stayed patient and got it. We are good enough to break teams down – it’s just a case of doing it.
“It would be nice to be involved again when we play Cobham on Saturday, but if not then I just have to be patient.”
Having been a member of the squad that suffered relegation to London One South in 2010-11, Folan is doubly determined to play a part in helping the club to regain their place in National Three London.
“It would mean a lot to me if I could help the club back up,” he said. “I was in the team the last time we got promoted, and it’s a great achievement for the team and the club as a whole.”