Kinnaird Cup Final 2014: Dunbar and Cooley Pass Tough Test

T.Dunbar & S.Cooley (1) beat J.Toop & M.Wiseman (3) 3-0 (14-12, 12-4, 12-7)

Tom Dunbar and Seb Cooley continued their four year unbeaten streak yesterday, winning the Kinnaird Cup at Eton for the fourth year in succession with victory over challengers James Toop and Matthew Wiseman in a pulsating final.

A large crowd was present to watch the match, drawn by the good weather and the prospect of a thrilling encounter as Olavians Toop and Wiseman looked to break Dunbar and Cooley's recent stranglehold on this tournament. Their thrilling five game final earlier in the season at the Northern Tournament in Shrewsbury had whetted the appetite and those watching were treated to a wonderful match, hard fought but always fair and full of flowing rallies, great speed of foot, thought and reaction and an assortment of shots, from bread and butter Fives shots executed consisently to near perfection to the more audacious and outrageous retrieves and winners which brought gasps of admiration from the spectators.

With all four players understandably a bit nervous, the first game raced along quickly, with a larger number of shorter rallies and unforced errors than we are sometimes used to seeing from these four. The game went in fits and starts; Toop and Wiseman made the better start, moving quickly to 6-2, but they were unable to defend the lead and two runs of points then cost them dearly. First, Cooley and Dunbar went from 2-6 to 6-6 in one hand, and a few minutes later did the same to turn a 6-8 deficit into an 11-8 lead. The play was fast and furious, the ball flying pinball-like around the angles, but the cuts were nearly all coming back and there were still errors in the game, particularly with the ball going long out of the back of the court and Toop and Wiseman produced a run of their own to level at 11-11 and then edge 12-11 ahead.

It was obvious to all that here was one of the crucial points of the match; whoever took the first game would be able to go into the second more relaxed and full of confidence; it seemed especially vital for Toop and Wiseman, as the challengers and slight underdogs, to get the first game under their belt and look to reverse those roles and put Dunbar and Cooley under pressure. The end of the game happened at the same breakneck speed as the rest of it; from 11-12 suddenly the champions were 13-12 up and quickly converting gameball to take a 1-0 lead.

The second game started quite cagily as both pairs were began to settle into the match. The early exchanges of the second game saw the rallies lengthen and the error count from both sides get lower. The score inched forward a point at a time, reaching 5-4 to Dunbar and Cooley before the champions made their move. Tom Dunbar's return of cut is one of the great shots in the game and it suddenly began to click into gear, two trademark returns producing the opportunities to go 7-4 ahead. A third in a row almost made it 8-4, as one of the best and longest rallies of the match finally ended with the Olavian pair winning the rally to finally cut Dunbar down. The relief was temporary, though as Dunbar was quickly back on top step and repeated the dose on the very next hand, returning everything and forcing mistakes from his opponents, with Wiseman in particular finding the ledges and the top of the buttress too frequently and seeing the ball fly out or into the roof. 10-4 quickly became 11-4 on the next hand and another Wiseman cut onto the ledge and into the roof brought the second game to a close, with Cooley and Dunbar 12-4 winners and closing in on victory.

Following that purple patch, there was a slight drop in intensity from Dunbar and Cooley at the start of the third, as Toop and Wiseman got the first couple of points on the board to provide a glimmer of hope. In many ways, the third game then mirrored the second as the two pairs edged forward point by point before another devastating burst of cut returning, this time with Cooley to the fore, took the score from 4-5 to 7-4 in one hand. From then on, the end was in sight as Seb and Tom moved quickly to 11-5 and match point. A last throw of the dice brought Matt and James back to 7-11 before Seb and Tom closed the match out to add yet another trophy to their collection.

With this, Colley and Dunbar's fourth successive Kinnaird Cup victory, Tom now stands equal with Brian Matthews on ten career wins, just one behind the record holder John Reynolds. Could next year be the year that Tom moves level? Or will Toop and Wiseman, producing their best performances this season since 2010/11, be back to challenge again and maybe knock them off their perch?

The trophy was presented by EFA President Richard Barber and guest of honour Robin Moulsdale, one of the greats of the game and himself a three-time winner of the Kinnaird Cup with fellow Old Salopian Dick Kittermaster in 1954, 1955 and 1956.

Thanks as always to Mark Williams and Mike Hughes at Eton and to all of those who competed in this year's competition and came to watch the final.

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