Oldham 18 - Hornets 32
Go on, pinch yourself.
After the game, Ian Talbot said to me: "Tomorrow, if someone asks when your club last won a trophy, tell them 'Yesterday' ". Indeed after a wait of 91 years, Talbot has succeeded where dozens of Hornets coaches have failed, and brought silverware back to a club that's waited an awful long time between drinks. As the realisation slowly sinks in today that next year's derby will be Halifax, Hornets' promotion to the Championship caps an arduous season - a fantastic reward for a year of hard work on and off the field.
In the run up to the final, Oldham's half-back Palfrey spoke of how Paul Crook's semi-final performance had given him a lesson in kicking. Here he was reduced to a spectator as Crooky sprayed the ball around the field with aplomb, constantly turning Oldham around and unleashing his varied repertoire of in-play kicking. Oh - and he finished the day with a 100% six from six place kicks. Superb.
|Two cups for the price of one! (photo: Louise Lewis)|
Hornets started from the gun, a teasing lofted Paul Crook kick into the in-goal behind Agoro found Martin Waring with space to leap and gather, but the video referee adjudged that he hadn't grounded the ball. No matter. Within two minutes Hornets were back on the attack, Steve Roper turning the ball inside to the impressive Dave Llewellyn who stepped through to bring the sizeable and noisy Hornets contingent to its feet.
It took Oldham 15 minutes to launch anything resembling an attack, but when they did it paid off, Ford scoring wide on the left, Palfrey adding the two. Six-all.
With the game locked in a tight arm-wrestle, Crooky's kicks compelled Oldham to begin their sets deep in their own half - but when Palfrey attempted to replicate this approach after 20 minutes, the result was very different. Having hoyed the ball into a waiting Hornets defence, Alex Trumper capitalised on strong breaks from Gaz Langley and Dave Llewellyn to find Danny Davies with enough space to glide through for a well taken try. Crooky with the two. 12-6, Hornets the better side.
With the half ebbing away, Hornets launched another attack. Strong forward approach play took them close and John Cookson bludgeoned his way through several defenders to plant the ball on the line for what looked a perfectly good try. Referee Leatherbarrow referred it upstairs and the video ref somehow saw a knock-on. No Try.
Oldham played their get out of jail card well. A good set took them 60 metres, but when a last tackle kick was knocked-on by Agoro and fumbled forward through a series of hands, Hughes touched down under the Hornets' posts more in hope than expectation. Mr Leatherbarrow asked the video ref for his view and, astonishingly, he pointed to the spot. Palfrey added the two and - instead of Hornets going in 18-6 up - Oldham had been handed a lifeline to go in at 12-all.
Oldham started the second half on the front-foot, their forwards making good yards to take them within 20 metres of the Hornets line. But when Palfrey lobbed a kick to Cookson stood a good five metres offside, the danger seemed to have passed. Instead, Mr Leatherbarrow passed the decision to the video ref who stunned the Hornets contingent by giving the try. Out of nowhere, Oldham 18-12 in front. Hornets didn't panic.
Crooky continued to make Oldham fag the ball from their own line, and when he planted an inch-perfect kick into the Oldham in-goal just before the hour, Palfrey's arse fell out and he hoofed it dead. From the resulting drop out, Hornets pounded the Oldham line and when the ball was worked left to Dave Hull, he wriggled through a mass of limbs to get the ball down. Crooky with the two. 18-all and coronaries all round.
Five minutes later saw Mr Leatherbarrow award the first penalty of the game as Oldham were caught offside 30 metres out. Cool as you like, Paul Crook stroked the ball between the sticks to edge Hornets in front - and you could feel the momentum shift.
With Hornets playing error-free, controlled football, Oldham found themselves struggling to get across the half-way line - their only exit a series of aimless hoofs downfield with no chase game to speak of. As Oldham began to blow, Hornets sucked in for a big finish.
On 70 minutes a Paul Crook kick was charged down. Hornets sent the artillery steaming at the heart of the Oldham defence, Cookson, Forster, Greenwood driving them backwards. And when the ball found its way to John Cookson he launched himself through a mass of Oldham defenders to plant the ball down. Hornets fans in raptures as Crooky added the two to give Hornets a 26-18 lead with nine minutes to play. (Apologies to Cooky, we initially incorrectly identified the try-scorer as Dave Llewellyn - though our excuse is that we were 100 metres away and jumping around at the time).
|This is how it feels to be Hornets! |
You could tell Oldham were gone. They began forcing passes, playing panic football, handing over cheap possession. On 75 minutes Hornets delivered the coup de grace. Carl Forster's pass to Gaz Langley; Langley slipping his defender to carry the ball 40 metres through open field; with Oldham defenders closing in, he slipped a peach of a ball inside for Wayne English to score a try worthy of winning any game. Hornets fans in ecstasy: Oldham fans heading for the exits in their hundreds with five minutes left to play. Crook with the two. 'ave it!
Oldham ended the game much as they'd spent the previous 80 minutes - trudging back after a Paul Crook kick to start again on their own 20 metre line. It was beautiful to watch.
Though not quite as beautiful as watching Paul Crook and Wayne English become the first Hornets skippers in 91 years hoist a trophy as Hornets fans sang "We are going up". Emotional stuff - grown men in tears.
All that remains is to say thank you. Thank you Ian Talbot for becoming an instant Hornets legend - the first Hornets coach in living memory to deliver a trophy. Thank you to the players - every single one who's pulled on our colours this season - you've done us, your familes and yourselves proud. To the Hornets co-operative board - proof of what's possible when fans come together. To the back-room staff - you may not get to run with the ball, but you do carry us through the season. And to you, the supporters. we've waited a long time - a lifetime - for this, so enjoy the feeling.
Great work everyone. Job done.