Sunday thriller sees Norfolk reach finals
Norfolk's newly-promoted Over-50 squash team arrived in Beaconsfield for their first matches in the National Premier League with high hopes.
Norfolk were up against 2008 and 2009 national champions Kent, a top-class Middlesex full of internationals and hosts Bucks.
Norfolk entered the competition with several injury worries. Gary Snelling pulled out at the last minute due to knee problems, Richard Millman was touch and go with knee worries and skipper Nick Gollaglee had strappings from his shoulder to his big toe.
It all started well with a resounding victory over Bucks, who were only able to provide four players, leaving Peter Scott with a walkover. The rest of the squad won comfortably to give everyone the boost they needed before taking on the might of Middlesex in the evening.
Scott, at No 5, performed admirably and could easily have won all of the games played before eventually going down in four.
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Mike Livock, at No 3, found the going tough against a younger opponent, James Ockwell, who had only recently passed 50. Ockwell soon took command and ran out a comfortable 3-0 winner.
Richard Millman, newly installed at No 1, took on old nemesis Alan Thompson and gave him an advantage by starting slowly. Despite a rousing finale Thompson always looked favourite and so it turned out.
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Simon Cullum, at No 4, found the going tough against another former national finalist, Dulip Adhihetty, going down in three.
This left Nick Gollaglee, at No 3, to take on Over-55 national champion Mark Cowley. The early stages looked even until the first of many incidents when Cowley crashed into the rear wall, dislocating one finger and splitting open another.
The long delay seemed to work in his favour as he came back to win the first.
The second was another close affair but this time Gollaglee had the edge to level the match. It was very much a clash of styles as Cowley bludgeoned the ball around with Gollaglee providing the more subtle moments.
Cowley took the third to lead 2-1 before things livened up in the fourth. The Middlesex man upped the ante but Gollaglee stuck to his task to take the game. Both players had their moments in the decider but Cowley came back from 0-4 to take it 9-4.
Overall the heavy defeat was not terminal to Norfolk's cause. It just meant that, with Middlesex likely to beat the whipping boys of Bucks, a win over Kent would secure a place in the finals.
By Sunday morning Norfolk were recharged and ready to take on national champions Kent.
Scott set the tone for the day by annihilating his opponent 9-0, 9-2, 9-0 – at one point he even thought 27-0 was possible. This gave the whole team a lift. Mike Livock, meanwhile, was finding life difficult, letting leads slip in the first two games before coming back in the third and fourth. Unfortunately the effort proved too much as his opponent powered ahead to win in five.
With the match level at 1-1, Norfolk desperately needed Cullum to win as both Millman and Gollaglee looked to have difficult matches.
Cullum was soon 2-0 down and all looked to be over. Millman had been providing guidance between games suggesting subtle differences to Cullum's game plan.
By the time he was 2-0 down his experienced advice had reduced to 'Livock has lost, Gollaglee will lose so you must win!'
This proved the best advice of the weekend as Cullum started to make an unexpected comeback taking the third and fourth against an opponent who had been flown in especially that morning for the Norfolk match.
In the fifth the pressure on the Kent player proved too much as Cullum steadily edged ahead, finally proving rock solid on the crucial final points and thus victory was his – without doubt the star performance of the weekend. This meant one victory from either Millman or Gollaglee would be enough.
Millman was becoming involved in a cagey match that nearly ended in defeat in the fourth, but having worn his opponent down Millman was far too strong in the fifth, winning 9-0 to secure a team win and guaranteeing second place overall.
Gollaglee was, as predicted, was being resoundly beaten by Clive London – but by then the team were celebrating a successful weekend.
Norfolk Over-50s will go to the finals in January with confidence high, especially as John Cordeaux will be a grateful addition as he 'matures' in January just prior to the finals.