Kent Target claimed their fourth consecutive A grade crown at the UKPA National Championships on the 8th of September as they just managed to overcome Celyn. However, Celyn had the last laugh as their club placings throughout all the grades was better than Kent and so they became the first ever club to win the new National Championships Trophy for the club that does best overall at the competition.
Kent were favourites for the A grade before the competition started. Their mens section was three of UK mens team, Jason Webb, Joel Sics and Will Halcrow and their ladies section featured some of their young talent, Emily Gilfillan (also of the UK team) and alongside her Sammy Rowden and Hazel Wilson. There was also no Cotswold team to oppose them, the only club which has beaten Kent this year in the A grade was absent due to the vast majority of their team attending the polocrosse wedding of Lucy Shell and Ralph Lyster (editor’s note: congratulations Lucy and Ralph!) which clashed with the Nationals due to the UKPA Executive unexpectedly moving the date of the competition later to stretch the season.
However, though Kent might have been the paper favourites the majority of the crowd seemed to want a Celyn win and they almost got their wish. The Celyn ladies of Sarah Simkin, Bryony Cross and Annie Mitchell were probably slightly stronger and though they started slowly, and Kent lead from the start, over the match the Celyn ladies improved, with Sarah Simkin in particular reminding everyone why she was first choice in the number three shirt for the UK for many years. They won the fifth chukka and dragged the score back to just a three goal gap to give the Celyn men a fighting chance.
The Celyn men of Tom Simkin, Max Pedley and Simon Amor had for most of the match been narrowly losing their chukkas but in the last chukka they came out and gave it everything. It was scrappy and there was plenty of turnover ball but Celyn got the better of it and pulled the gap back to just one goal. They won ball again through Max Pedley, Simon Amor made his break on Santi and took the pass over the line, pumped an over arm shot through the posts and for a second it seemed liked Celyn had levelled it up and it might go to Golden Goal. Then Celyn hearts broke as the goal judge signalled no goal for Santi’s front feet being in the D when the goal as shot. Simon Amor did not look convinced but the umpires signalled a 30 yard clearing throw, which Kent duly took and went down field to score from and make the gap two goals again just before the end of the match.
On balance Kent were the better team and did deserve their win. However, it was very hard not to feel for Celyn and particularly Simon who had said before the Nationals that he wouldn’t be playing next season. Many people would have loved to have seen him retire (editor’s note: hopefuly just a short term retirement) with a win but it was not to be.
It was a bit of a Nationals of goodbyes as in the B Grade Simon Shearing said goodbye to Vale Impi after consecutive back to back Nationals wins. He will play for Welsh Dragons next year back in the A grade, probably to the relief of the other B grade sides as there was no doubting his influence on the results. However it wasn’t all plain sailing for Vale Impi, who just managed to overcome Kent on the Saturday. However, they then overcame Cotswold more easily on the Sunday and so won the round robin competition.
Cotswold also said goodbye to a key member of their team, the legendary horse Papoose who Sarah Peaker has now retired to put in foal. Number ones everywhere will breath a sigh of relief that they no longer have to try and get around the brick wall that was Papoose in defence but also perhaps live in fear that in a few years time they could be trying to get around a baby Papoose which will no doubt be equally tough. Papoose retired in style, she won the best playing horse in B grade for the competition.
In the Upper C grade it was Arden who emerged victorious. Arden have played B grade most of the year but with some of their normal players and horses missing they bought in some different players to their top team and so dropped to the C grade. The replacements duely did their job as they emerged victorious, overcoming Kent in the final by 19 goals to 13. Seymour Smith picked up best player while another very well known horse, Govenor, won best horse after Sophie Phillips played him in the final.
In the Lower C grade it was the Welsh Dragons who defeated Kent to win the trophy. The Welsh had a number of young players in their team and so will not doubt hope this bodes well for their future as they will look to move up the grades next year.
In the D grade it was a very close final between Rugby and Celyn, which ultimately went to golden goal. It was an exciting final passage of play, with chances on both sides but in the end Rugby held their nerve and Nick Johnson got the ball in his goal scoring area and shot it between the posts to give Rugby the win. Henry Christiansen of Rugby and his horse Torda won best player and best horse respectively.
In the E grade it was a combined Rugby and Welsh Dragons team that managed to grab a win as they defeated Northern Lions. Jeremy Pidgeon of Rugby won a haul of prizes, picking up best player and also best overall newcomer while his horse Milly picked up best horse in the E grade.
In the Juniors Celyn did what they have managed to do for most of the year and won the grade. The Northern Lions again managed to finish second to round off what has been a good first full UKPA season for many of their players. Lucy Adams of Celyn picked up best player while Splodge, owned by Russell Smith of Arden, won best horse.
In the Primary Juniors it was another win for Arden as they overcame another combined Welsh Dragons and Rugby team in a hard fought final. Arden gave themselves a good lead early on but Finn Bristow had a strong last chukka and started to pull back the score but it wasn’t enough. Tegan Bristow of Rugby picked up best player while the well known pony Gilly, ridden by Theo Cornforth, won best pony. Gilly is also now rumoured to be retiring from competitive action.
In the other prizes that are now always awarded at Nationals, the ironically named Tiny won the Flecha Peron Trophy for veteran horse, Lucy Adams picked up the Bomber Junior Trophy, Jeremy Pidgeon won best newcomer, Finn Bristow won the Kirsch Cup for best sportsman and Celyn lifted the new Nationals Champions Trophy for the overall most successful club at the competition.
So Nationals has come and gone for another year and overall it was a very successful competition. The UKPA undoubtedly took a chance in moving the competition later but they actually got fairly kind weather, particularly on the Sunday and the actual event ran very smoothly with some excellent organisation and with a lot of new sponsors supporting the sport which was very good to see. That success is as direct result of the hard work that people such as Barry Amor have put into making the event this year bigger and more professional and certainly it had that feel to it. Whether the executive will leave the Nationals later next year or return to its traditional August bank holiday slot, which many people would like to see it do, remains to be seen and no doubt that will be discussed at the AGM in November, along with a number of other things, such as the success of mixed competition in the A grade.
So we would just like to pass on our congratulations to all the winners at the competition and also to all the volunteers who make it possible, because without them there wouldn’t be a Nationals! Congratulations and thank you!
To read the full results click here.