Dunbar and Cooley Show Northern Composure

08/02/16: The 2016 Northern Tournament took place on Saturday and Sunday with 55 pairs braving the traditional Shrewsbury cold, wind and rain to produce the equally traditional fantastic weekend of Fives. The main tournament saw a small but high quality field battle it out in a terrific series of matches, with the final a repeat of the pre-Christmas London Tournament, Tom Dunbar & Seb Cooley taking the title for a sixth consecutive year with a win over James Toop & Tom Gallagher.

The Festival this year featured 42 pairs and was over 40% female, a fantastic statistic. It was won in the end by Joey Prior & Kieran Walton from St.Olave's who beat Cambridge University's Nathan Turnbull & Will Reid in the final.

With only 13 pairs in the main competition this year, including the majority of the country’s leading players, the opportunity was there for exciting and longer group matches. The briefest of glances at the draw made it clear that there were going to be no easy games and some strong pairs who would miss out on the quarter-finals.

Group A was fairly straightforward, with Dunbar & Cooley cruising through comfortably, scratch pairing Howard Wiseman & Riki Houlden qualifying in second place and schoolboy pairs Nwuba & Pugh and White & Cotty gaining valuable experience.

Second seeds Anthony Theodossi and Ryan Perrie looked like they might have their work cut out in Group B, having to fend off the dual Salopian challenge of Ed Taylor & Guy Williams and last year’s surprise semi-finalists Tom Welti & Chris Hughes. Ant and Ryan responded well, putting in two strong performances to win the group and confirm their status as one of the leading challengers to Dunbar & Cooley. This left the battle of the Salopians to see who would make it through to the last eight; Hughes and Welti took a very tight first game but Williams and Taylor turned it round after that, winning the next two to qualify for the knockout rounds and leave Hughes and Welti to reflect on the difference 12 months makes and to go away and regroup for the Kinnaird later in the season.

Group C went pretty much to form, London finalists James Toop and Tom Gallagher winning in relative comfort with Doug Foster and Andrew Joyce unable to make much of an impression on the Olavian pair, although the Berkhamsted duo did have too much quality for Mark Yates and Shrewsbury schoolboy Luke Lloyd-Jones and took the second qualifying slot.

Group D turned out to the toughest of the lot, lasting a good couple of hours longer than the other three and leaving Toop & Gallagher and Foster & Joyce waiting to play their quarter-finals until late in the afternoon. The group started predictably enough, with sixth seeds Laurie Brock and Ed Rose winning the first game easily enough against Salopians Rex Worth and Tom Cox. The Salopians pair served notice that they were beginning to find some form in the second game, however, taking 10 points from the Westminster pair, and they carried that momentum into their second game against fourth seeds Richard Tyler and David Mew, winning the first game and then recovering from the loss of the second to win the decider and leave the higher seeded pair’s hopes hanging by a thread.

Mew and Tyler are not a pair to go down without a fight, however, and threw everything at Brock & Rose to try and get themselves back into the tournament. It wasn’t enough, however, as Brock & Rose held their nerve and won in two tight games to top the group and send the fourth seeds crashing out, with Cox & Worth through in second place.

The quarter-finals were played on Saturday afternoon and didn’t contain too many surprises: Cooley & Dunbar confirmed their status as top dogs with a brutal demolition of Taylor & Williams; Theodossi & Perrie continued their good form of the morning to see off the potentially awkward pairing of Wiseman and Houlden (like trying to combat a swarm of pesky fruit flies) in straight games and Toop played like a man with a train to catch to dominate the court as he and Gallagher put Cox & Worth firmly in their place. The closest quarter-final – both on paper and on court – was between 2015 London semi-finalists Brock and Rose and 2015 Kinnaird semi-finalists Foster & Joyce. The morning form book seemed to favour the Westminster pair but Foster & Joyce quickly showed they were up for the fight as they took the first game 15-11. Laurie and Ed had had the harder passage through and already had some miles in their legs having spent a longer on court than their Berkhamsted opponents. They weren’t to be denied, however, and a burst of energy and a run of points at the start of the second game opened the door and the Westminster pair held the upper hand from that point on, winning the next three games to 2, 7 and 9 to make it through to the last four for the second consecutive year.

Saturday’s efforts had taken a lot out of Brock and Rose and they were predictably no match for the untouchable Dunbar & Cooley in the first semi-final on Sunday morning. The second semi-final between the second and third seeds was a lot tighter and a lot more evenly matched. Toop & Gallagher got off to a strong start, winning the first game to 5 and forcing errors from their opponents. Theodossi and Perrie dug in, however, and with James perhaps slightly over reaching himself in the second (no trains to catch this time!) Ant and Ryan fought back well to level the scores at 1-1. They couldn’t keep that run going, though, as James and Tom combined much more effectively in the third, playing tighter lines with a much greater degree of control and applying pressure on their opponents that Ant and Ryan were unable to cope with. The third game was won to 2 and the fourth to 7 to set up a rematch of the recent London final.

The final at Harrow in December was Tom Gallagher’s first experience of Fives at that level; having acquitted himself well there, yesterday’s match-up at Shrewsbury showed clear evidence of progression – both in Tom’s own game and in his partnership with James – in the short space of time since. Dunbar & Cooley won, of course, as they are head and shoulders above everyone else at this moment in time and continue to set standards that the rest can’t currently match. The predictability – in fact almost the inevitability – of their win shouldn’t mask the fact that they are a sensational pair, are still unbeaten in their sixth season of playing together, and are now clearly established as one of the greatest pairs the sport has ever seen. In the face of this opposition, Toop & Gallagher performed very well indeed; James himself is also right up there in the list of all time greats and Tom can count himself very lucky that he is getting the opportunity to learn from the best. One imagines that if Tom ends up with a career record anything like the other three players on court yesterday he will be a very happy man indeed in a few years time. In the meantime, he can now turn his focus to trying to become part of the first Olavian pair to become open champions at the National Schools’ since James and Seb themselves back in 1999.

While the pros were battling it out, the rump of the Fives-playing community was taking part in the Festival competition, all with their eye on winning the Malcolm Mitchell shields, the biggest trophies in Fives.

42 pairs took part in total and with the help of Andy Barnard’s contingent of Shrewsbury girls pairs 34 of the 84 players were female. Twenty years ago this would have seemed impossible; it just goes to show how the ladies game is progressing and how the demographics of the sport are changing. The fact that men’s pairs, ladies pairs, boys pairs, girls pairs and mixed pairs can all take part in the same competition and all have good games and enjoy themselves is one of the great joys of Eton Fives and this year’s festival encapsulated that in two marvellous days of matches.

Saturday’s groups provided everyone with a wide range of matches and acted as a filter to put the pairs into the correct competition for Sunday’s play. The top eight qualifiers went into the Sunday quarter-finals just three wins away from the getting their hands on the shields, and competition was fierce. Joey Prior and Olavian schoolboy Kieran Walton had to withstand a rousing second game comeback to beat Salopian father and son pair Bill and Connor Christie; ladies champions Charlotta Cooley & Karen Hird were 9-5 up in the decided before losing to Cambridge students Nathan Turnbull & Will Reid (at least Karen got to go home early and play with her birthday lego); Ipswichian bragging rights were won by the experienced Peter Boughton & Tony Stubbs as they saw off Piers Prior and his Salopian partner Max Morris and fellow Ipswichians Steve Burnell and John Caudle didn’t quite have the legs to beat Olavian school pair Coby Plews and Vish Shetty.

Prior & Walton defeated Boughton & Stubbs in the first semi and an all-Olavian final looked on the cards; Turnbull & Reid had other ideas, however, winning the first game 12-7 against Shetty & Plews before clinging on to take the second 14-12.

A second consecutive Olavian scalp proved to be beyond the Cambridge pair in the final, however. All three games were close, but the Cambridge pair always seemd to be coming from behind and Prior and Walton returned cut a little better and were just a bit more clinical when it mattered at the business end of each game. They won 12-9, 12-9, 12-8 to deservedly win the festival title.

The Festival A Plate was equally hard fought. Ralph Morgan and Chris Ballingall came from behind to win their semi-final against OI Tim Gregory and his daughter Charlotte (a star of the future for sure) but were unable to repeat the dose against Olavian schoolboys Sachin Balaji and Louis Maclean in the final.

The Festival B plate was a tremendous competition with the top two Shrewsbury girls pairs reaching the final after semi-final wins over Peter & Vicky Westwood and Eloise Carter & Esme O’Keeffe. The final was a tremendous contest with Sophia Breese & Lizzie Ware up against Emma Graham & Katie Oswald. These two pairs – who will both be strong contenders for the U15 title at the National Schools this year – have played each other plenty of times in practice but this was a first competitive meeting between the two and it was a titanic battle, eventually reaching 14-14 and sudden death. The end was rather anticlimactic as Lizzie hit a cut that was going out of court; Sophia stopped it and with all four players unaware that you can’t catch a game ball cut and about to carry on playing, Andy Barnard had to step on court to let them know that the game had ended. We will undoubtedly see more of all four of these players in the future.

My thanks go to Andrew Mitchell for his splendid organising, to the Ipswich, St.Olave’s and Emanuel contingents for bringing their groups (Stubbsy even managed to get Ipswich there by just after 12 this year), to Seb Cooley and Andy Barnard for their help at the Shrewsbury School end, and to all those who came and took part. If you didn’t, you should have done and hopefully we’ll see you next year!


Main Tournament

Quarter-Finals

S.Cooley & T.Dunbar (1) beat E.Taylor & G.Williams (8) 3-0 (12-0, 12-1, 12-0)

L.Brock & E.Rose (6) beat D.Foster & A.Joyce (5) 3-1 (11-15, 12-2, 12-7, 12-9)

J.Toop & T.Gallagher (3) beat R.Worth & T.Cox 3-0 (12-5, 12-4, 12-1)

A.Theodossi & R.Perrie (2) beat H.Wiseman & R.Houlden (7) 3-0 (12-8, 12-8, 12-1)

Semi-Finals

S.Cooley & T.Dunbar (1) beat L.Brock & E.Rose (6) 3-0 (12-1, 12-3, 12-2)

J.Toop & T.Gallagher (3) beat A.Theodossi & R.Perrie (2) 3-1 (12-5, 9-12, 12-2, 12-7)

Final

S.Cooley & T.Dunbar (1) beat J.Toop & T.Gallagher (3) 3-0 (12-3, 12-3, 12-6)


Festival

Last 16

J.Prior & K.Walton beat M.Schutzer-Weissmann & P.Jacob 15-1

B.Christie & C.Christie beat S.Balaji & L.Maclean 15-13

P.Boughton & T.Stubbs beat T.Liddemore & S.Gupta 15-4

M.Morris & P.Prior beat A.Lumbard & E.Scoones 15-6

N.Turnbull & W.Reid beat T.Gregory & C.Gregory 15-3

K.Hird & C.Cooley beat T.Marwood & D.Hutcheson 15-1

S.Burnell & J.Caudle beat R.Morgan & C.Ballingall 15-13

C.Plews & V.Shetty beat F.Rowe & C.Wheeler 15-3

Quarter-Finals

J.Prior & K.Walton beat B.Christie & C.Christie 2-0 (12-4, 15-11)

P.Boughton & T.Stubbs beat M.Morris & P.Prior 2-0 (12-8, 15-11)

N.Turnbull & W.Reid beat K.Hird & C.Cooley 2-1 (12-13, 12-6, 12-9)

C.Plews & V.Shetty beat S.Burnell & J.Caudle 2-0 (12-5, 12-9)

Semi-Finals

J.Prior & K.Walton beat P.Boughton & T.Stubbs 2-0 (12-9, 12-4)

N.Turnbull & W.Reid beat C.Plews & V.Shetty 2-0 (12-7, 14-12)

Final

J.Prior & K.Walton beat N.Turnbull & W.Reid 3-0 (12-9, 12-9, 12-8)


Festival Plate A

Semi-Finals

R.Morgan & C.Ballingall beat T.Gregory & C.Gregory 2-1 (7-12, 12-3, 12-7)

S.Balaji & L.Maclean beat T.Liddemore & S.Gupta 15-5

Final

S.Balaji & L.Maclean beat R.Morgan & C.Ballingall 2-1 (12-10, 10-12, 12-5)

Festival Plate B

Semi-Finals

S.Breese & L.Ware beat P.Westwood & V.Westwood 15-11

K.Oswald & E.Graham beat E.Carter & E.O’Keeffe 15-9

Final

K.Oswald & E.Graham beat S.Breese & L.Ware 15-14

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