After January’s tournament was postponed because of weather, Magpies waited until Late April to play their national finals. Despite the shortened matches and the unavailability of Rhodri Furlong (who was training with the Wales senior squad) it was well worth the wait.
Arriving with a small squad of 8 and playing in a first national finals against some formidable hockey clubs were all reasons why magpies would be excused to start nervously against Doncaster in their first match. However, after settling into the game, Magpies asserted their superiority. Thomas Ridley moving the ball wide of the keeper before sliding it low into the goal with a reverse stick finish. The match remained fairly even with Doncaster equalising with a scrambled goal after the ball was only half cleared from the Magpies defence. However, with only a few minutes remaining, a strong run and powerful pass by Tom Graham found the willing Mitchell Tompkins who finished smartly at the back post to make the score 2-1. Magpies were still made to work hard for their win, as when with seconds remaining Doncaster found a foot in the circle to create a final chance to equalise from a full time short corner. Magpies had the outstanding James Graham to thank for rushing out and saving the shot high over the baseline to complete a 2-1 victory and a very pleasing start.
After a short rest Magpies had found their feet and were ready for a match turned out to be the crucial one of the pool against Bath Buccaneers. Magpies looking very solid as a defensive unit with the whole squad working hard for each other to limit the opportunities for their opponents, but with short corners being left unconverted, it looked like the match may have been heading for a rare 0-0 draw. Luckily Dom Absolon showed great determination and strength in the circle to force a late winner with an accurate finish. Magpies played out the last few minutes with good composure and made their 62% match possession tell (Stat credit to Andrew Johnson) to finish as 1-0 victors.
Magpies were next focusing on the major scalp of Beeston, who had previously ended the outdoor squad’s cup run. Eyes were drawn to Beeston’s talented central player, but the well thought out strategy saw man of the moment Thomas Ridley nullify the threat who had terrorised other opponents. Beeston still threatened through other outlets and opened the scoring from a penalty stroke after the umpire had adjudged the ball hit the arm of a Magpies defender on the way to the goal. With the introduction of Giles Flatt causing problems for Beeston with his size and strength, Magpies got the goal their play had deserved through Dom Absolon and a victory looked well within grasp. However despite an end to end finale which saw v-drag after damaging v-drag from Tom Graham and the defensive pair of Will Blyth and George Anthony excel time and again, Beeston scored the winner, with appeals for a lifted ball falling on deaf ears.
Two wins and one loss meant that Magpies had to win the final game against reigning champions Wycombe to qualify for the semi-finals. After an inspirational pre-match talk Magpies were suitably prepared for the match ahead. Right from the start Magpies superiority was made clear when Will Blyth converted well from a rebound at a corner. As Wycombe pushed on to get back to level terms, Blyth’s tackle count just kept on rising allowing for more attacks from the frontline with the ball skills of Tom Graham causing particular damage. Goals for Absolon and Ridley were inevitable and Graham joined the list of scorers with one of his own ending the match total at 4-0, completing Magpies’ 2nd clean sheet of the day and blazing a very convincing trail into the semi finals with their best performance of the day.
Magpies met City of Peterborough in the semi finals. Unfortunately Magpies were not able to re-create the sparkling form they had shown in their previous match with tiredness perhaps starting to creep in after a long day. Peterborough opened the scoring when James Graham in the Magpies goal was finally beaten by a cruel deflection from a short corner (which was to be the only goal he let in from a corner in the whole tournament!). As Magpies gave everything to push forward for an equaliser, gaps started to appear in the otherwise watertight press leading to Peterborough scoring a second goal to which their was no way back for Magpies and the dream of a national title was ended.
The tournament was won by worthy winners Beeston, with Magpies finishing joint 3rd. The squad can be very proud of themselves after all 8 players brought their A games to the national finals and worked so hard for each other in a display which has to go down as the most impressive indoor team showing since Magpies last won the national U18 title 10 years ago. For many of the boys this was the last performance for Magpies as a junior and gladly it has come in such a positive manner. It has been a pleasure for us to help out with a team which have shown such great attitude and team spirit at this tournament and throughout the season and who are a real credit to both themselves and the club.
Magpies Squad: James Graham (GK), Will Blyth (C), George Anthony, Thomas Ridley, Tom Graham, Dom Absolon, Giles Flatt, Mitchell Tompkins.
Manager: Bertie Steggles
Coach: Richard Larkin
Magpies player of tournament: Thomas Ridley
Tournament report written by Richard Larkin