Feb 2015: Five in a Row - Dunbar & Cooley Conquer the Frozen North Yet Again
02/02/15: The 2015 Northern Tournament at Shrewsbury was, as always, a huge success, with nearly 60 pairs braving the usual arctic early February conditions to enjoy an enjoyable weekend's Fives.
The tournament was won for the fifth successive time - a unique feat - by Tom Dunbar and Seb Cooley, who continued their remarkable record of never being beaten as a pair after five years of playing together. They did, however, lose their fourth game in that time, to the same opponents who had won the previous two in the same tournament last season, Olavians Matthew Wiseman and James Toop, during the course of a magnificent final that held the good number of spectators enthralled from start to finish.
Saturday's play started with 18 pairs in the main competition and 37 pairs in the festival, including school entries from the far east (Ipswich and St.Olave's) and the far north (St.Bees - always welcome visitors on one of their few outings on the main circuit). The four main tournament groups produced plenty of intrigue. Defending champions, top seeds and giants of the game Seb Cooley and Tom Dunbar dominated Group A without breaking sweat (or only enough to necessitate the removal of one of Seb's several outer layers anyway). The fight for second place was much closer, coming down to the match between Wulfrunians Mark Yates and Sid Simmons and the scratch pairing of top Shrewsbury School player Samson Yick with reigning veterans champion Gareth Hoskins. The Wulfrunians won the cut returning battle easily in the first game, winning 12-4, but Gareth and Samson turned the tables impressively in the second game, dominating the set piece in the same way Mark and Sid had done in the first game to win 12-5. The format meant that each match was two games long, leaving the pairs tied on games won and the Wulfunians qualifying by the single point more scored in the head to head.
Group B turned out to even closer. Third seeds Howard Wiseman and Richard Tyler were expected to top the group but found themselves in trouble against the Eton first pair Tom Weld and Tom Kirkby and also against young Salopians Chris Hughes and Tom Welti, and were only able to draw both matches 1-1. A 2-0 win for Hughes and Welti over the Etonians meant that they therefore topped the group, leaving Wiseman and Tyler to face Dunbar and Cooley in the quarters and opening up a slot in the draw for some new faces to reach the semis.
Group C was something of an anticlimax, with fourth seeds Ant Theodossi and Ryan Perrie qualifying comfortably and the other seeded pair in the group - Shrewsbury School's Tom Breese and George Lewis - having to withdraw due to a back injury suffered by Breese. This left an unexpected opportunity to qualify for the last eight open to the winners of the match between recent Salopian leavers Harry Flowers and Max Hulse and veterans Nick Bunyan and Pete Scholey. This ended in another 1-1 draw, but it was Bunyan and Scholey who went through with the better points total from the two games. The final group went more to form, lacking the drama of the others, with seeded pairs James Toop and Matthew Wiseman and Laurie Brock and Ed Rose qualifying comfortably.
The quarter-finals took place late on Saturday afternoon: Bunyan and Scholey made little impression on Toop and Wiseman and Dunbar and Cooley were absolutely imperious in dismantling Richard Tyler and Howard Wiseman for the loss of only two points. Brock and Rose took the first game against Theodossi and Perrie and looked to be in with a good chance of winning, with Laurie in particular in fine form. Unfortunately for the Westminster pair, Ed was struggling physically and far from his best, allowing Ant and Ryan to get back in the match and win through in four scrappy games.
It was in last year's Kinnaird Cup that Chris Hughes and Tom Welti first served notice that they were ready to break through into the higher echelons of the game, losing a five game epic to Brock and Rose and going on to win the Pepperpot trophy. Further improvement - with the added advantage of playing on their home courts - meant that they were ready to follow up their impressive group stage performance with a hard-fought quarter-final win over their tough Wulfrunian opponents Yates and Simmons. The younger Salopian pair were feeling the physical effects of the day's efforts more than their opponents, especially when losing the third game having won the first two, but their typically Salopian game of fast volleying and pushing forward relentlessly from the back court was extremely effective in denying Yates and Simmons time and space and they came back to win the fourth in fine style and deservedly make it through to their first major semi-final.
With Peter Dunbar and George Campbell unavailable so far this season due to work and football commitments, the gap between the top two pairs and the rest currently feels like an unbridgable gulf and once again the two top pairs made it through the semi-final stage all too easily. Hughes and Welti fought hard and made Toop and Wiseman work for the first half of the first game, but they were still feeling the effects of the previous day's efforts and once the experienced Olavian pair got on top, there was nothing Chris and Tom could do to prevent them racing away with the match. The other semi-final was even quicker, Cooley and Dunbar simply unstoppable in losing only three points to Theodossi and Perrie and qualifying for the final having lost a total of only 10 points in the entire tournament.
Seb and Tom took this level of dominance into the start of the final against Matt and James, getting off to a flying start to lead 5-0 and then 9-2. All four players must have had the memory of the recent London tournament final fresh in their minds, where Cooley and Dunbar had won emphatically to 2,3 and 5; it says a lot for the mental strength of Toop and Wiseman that they weren't remotely fazed by their opponents' initial blitz and although they went on to lose the first game 12-7, there were already signs towards the end of the first game that Seb and Tom were not going to have things their own way quite so easily this time.
The large crowd were then treated to two of the most thrilling games of Fives that most of them will ever have seen over the course of the next couple of hours, with fortunes fluctuating and Cooley and Dunbar's long unbeaten record under more pressure than ever before. Last year's final went to five games, but was played in the context of Tom recovering from recent illness. This was different, and with Wiseman in particular producing some stunning Fives in the second game, it was the second seeds who held the whip hand for most of the second and third games. Both followed similar patterns, with Toop and Wiseman ahead for the majority of the time and getting to 11 first. James and Matt were enjoying the wide open spaces and creating some spectacular angles, with Dunbar and Cooley unable or unwilling to keep the ball tight in the buttress as much as perhaps they should have done. In both games two and three, they managed to claw things back and level at 11-11 as Matt and James were unable to land the initial knockout blow. In game two Matt and James produced their best Fives when it mattered, deservedly winning 14-11. In game three, having made most of the running and leading 8-4, 11-9 and 12-11 at various times and with numerous foot down chances, no one could have said that the Olavians didn't deserve a 2-1 lead. Who knows what would have happened in the fourth game if Matt and James had got their noses in front, but Tom and Seb somehow clung on, saved game point again and again and then suddenly found some inspiration of ther own to take it 14-12 and regain the lead.
The final stages of the third game proved to be decisive. Matt and James were unable to recover from the disappointment of losing the third game, having played so well and made so much of the running, and Seb and Tom ran through the fourth game, forcing errors from their opponents that hadn't been there for the previous two hours, to keep their unbeaten record and win the Northern tournament for a fifth straight year. For the neutrals, after the one-sided final at Harrow in December, this was a contest to savour and sets up the Kinnaird Cup later in the season beautifully. The only disappointment at the moment is the lack of any meaningful other competition for the top two pairs and it is to be hoped that some of the lower ranked pairs respond to that challenge at Eton in a few weeks time.
While the elite players had their eyes on the main tournament trophy, the massed ranks in the festival were hoping to get their hands on the magnificent Malcolm Mitchell shields. The large field was divided into eight groups to start with, each with a mixture of age, ability, gender and anticipated arrival time. The St Bees contingent were ready and waiting to play well before 11 after an early start in Cumbria, while by contrast past reputation meant that the Ipswich pairs were carefully spread around the groups. The eight qualifiers for the quarter-finals were a fair reflection of the variety of the entry - three Olavian school pairs, one each from Ipswich school and Shrewsbury school, with the older generation represented by Peter Boughton and Tony Stubbs, Mike Skjott and Johnny Saunders and Joey Prior and Rez Malik.
Boughton and Stubbs fell at the quarter-final stage to Olavians Morgan Pugh and Josh Ravi; the other quarter-final in the top half of the draw saw the tables turned as Ipswich - in the shape of Isaac Wagland and Sam Clark - defeated Leo Henderson and Harry Russell from St.Olave's. In the bottom half, it was experience that won through as Skjott and Saunders came from behind to beat the third Olavian pair (Kieran Walton and James Tate) and Malik and Prior defeated Salopians Adam Aslam-Baskeyfield and Ed Chapman. In the semi-finals, Wagland and Clark were unable to continue their Olavian-slaying, losing to Pugh and Ravi, and Skjott and Saunders won through in a titanic three game battle against Malik and Prior. The first game of the final went the way of the senior pair, as the schoolboys struggled to come to terms with Johnny's sharpness around the court and the fearsome weapon that is the MIke Skjott left hand. Credit must go to Josh and Morgan, however, as they worked out how to combat the unique challenge of facing Mike and then cashed in as their opponents began to tire, feeling the effects at last of the long semi-final. The third set raced by in a flash to leave Josh and Morgan victorious.
Plate competitions of all shapes and sizes continued as the day progressed, with more Olavians triumphant in Plates A (Will Carew and Ed King) and B (Sohail Ujoodia and Charlie Stocks) and a home win in Plate C from Josh Himsworth and Jesse Mattinson.
Thanks go to Seb Cooley and everyone at Shrewsbury for hosting us so well as always, to Mark Williams and Andrew Mitchell for their organisational work and to all those who played and in some cases travelled great distances to be there. See you all again next year!
T.Dunbar & S.Cooley beat H.Wiseman & R.Tyler 3-0 (12-0, 12-1, 12-1)
C.Hughes & T.Welti beat M.Yates & S.Simmons 3-1 (12-6, 15-11, 5-12, 12-4)
A.Theodossi & R.Perrie beat L.Brock & E.Rose 3-1 (9-12, 12-7, 12-6, 12-9)
J.Toop & M.Wiseman beat N.Bunyan & P.Scholey 3-0 (12-2, 12-3, 12-3)
T.Dunbar & S.Cooley beat A.Theodossi & R.Perrie 3-0 (12-3, 12-0, 12-0)
J.Toop & M.Wiseman beat C.Hughes & T.Welti 3-0 (12-5, 12-0, 12-1)
T.Dunbar & S.Cooley beat J.Toop & M.Wiseman 3-1 (12-7, 11-14, 14-12, 12-2)
1st - T.Weld & T.Kirkby
2nd - T.Gallagher & K.Nwuba
M.Pugh & J.Ravi beat P.Boughton & T.Stubbs 2-0 (12-4, 12-5)
I.Wagland & S.Clark beat L.Henderson & H.Russell 2-1 (12-6, 11-12, 12-10)
J.Prior & R.Malik beat E.Chapman & A.Aslam-Baskeyfield 2-0 (12-10, 12-5)
M.Skjott & J.Saunders beat K.Walton & J.Tate 2-1 (8-12, 12-7, 12-6)
M.Pugh & J.Ravi beat I.Wagland & S.Clark 2-0 (12-3, 12-4)
M.Skjott & J.Saunders beat J.Prior & R.Malik 2-1 (15-12, 11-13, 12-4)
M.Pugh & J.Ravi beat M.Skjott & J.Saunders 2-1 (6-12, 12-5, 12-1)
1st - W.Carew & E.King
2nd - I.Mitchell & J.Hepburn
S.Ujoodia & C.Stocks beat P.Prior & D.Barker
J.Mattinson & J.Himsworth beat P.Westwood & A.Westwood