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It was almost three long years since Nottinghamshire gained promotion to A Division as B Division runners up in a close 4-3 loss in 2019 and everyone was been eager to get back in the fold.
The preliminary tournament was held at Abbeydale Sports Club, home of Sheffield HC and the spiritual home of Yorkshire, finalists four out of the last five years. Notts other opponents would be Lincolnshire, an A Division stalwart and 2013 winners, and local rivals Derbyshire.
Notts started their campaign on the Saturday afternoon against Lincolnshire. A side they play regularly as part of their competition preparation and were beaten by, comprehensively, just two weeks earlier.
Notts came out of the blocks, all guns firing and had Lincolnshire on the back foot from the off. Two early goals by Jack Robson saw Notts go into half time comfortably ahead. Lincolnshire rallied briefly, late into second half, forcing a penalty stroke with 5 minutes to go and set up a nervous last few minutes, but Notts held on to gain their first victory of the weekend.
The early Sunday game was always going to be key, against home side and favourites Yorkshire. Again, Notts started strongly, and Oliver Edmond coolly finished to put Notts ahead. Yorkshire rallied and pulled level halfway through the second quarter, before Notts Louis Duprez finished smartly from a penalty corner, to put Notts in front at the half time break. Yorkshire pulled level again shortly after the start of the second half and the game remained closely contested, but with neither side breaking through, to remain 2-2 at full time.
Notts final game of the weekend was against Derbyshire, knowing that a win would put them through as top seeds, regardless of other results. The game was a cagey affair, both sets of players knowing each other well, many of them team-mates for their respective clubs. Notts took the lead on 26 minutes via a Jack Robson penalty corner, before Derbyshire pulled level two minutes before half time. Once again, a cautious second half, neither side wanting to lose, saw the game finish 1-1 and Notts complete their campaign on 5 points, enough to see them through to Finals Day, but they could still go through top if Lincolnshire could overcome home side Yorkshire.
The shock 4-0 score line, that Yorkshire were on the surprise end of, meant that they qualified in second place and Notts went through as group champions, giving them a favourable draw in the A Division Semi-Final.
As has been the recent trend, Finals Day was held at the Nottingham Hockey Centre. A change in weekend due to the moved Jubilee Bank Holiday meant that Notts suffered some unavailability (this reporter included!) and some new players were drafted in last minute.
Notts would start against Warwickshire, and a smart first half performance saw them go in at the break ahead, with a goal from Alex Davies. Warwickshire pulled level in the third quarter and that’s how it remained and would be decided by penalty strokes. After 5 each the score was 4-4 and we moved into sudden death and when Warwickshire hit the post with their fourth sudden death stroke, Ben Foxley slotted his home to set up a final against overall favourites and winners for three of the last four years, Kent.
In the final Notts held their own, but there was no reply to the favourites, and they went down 5-0 to finish with the County Championships Silver medal.
Manager Gareth Parr said, “Notts have won the County Championships once in the past, but under very different circumstances. It’s been ten years since Adam Innocent and James Hewitt approached the executive committee with a desire to restart the side, after a lack of volunteers to run it had caused us to not enter for a number of years. We restarted with the following aims, as it’s funded, largely by the Notts clubs (and the participating players), all decisions and selections would be made transparently, and we would use the squad as a development tool, not just for players but for coaches, officials and technical staff, and I honestly believe that Notts clubs have benefitted as a result. This year has seen players from almost all clubs attend the open training and trials sessions, gaining invaluable experience being coached by different coaches and playing alongside different team mates. The squad over the preliminary tournament and finals day has been made up of representatives from nine different clubs, which poses its own difficulties’.
To conclude coach Matt Orridge said “After two years off a new look County side came together and got stronger the more they played alongside each other. They’ve worked extremely hard to grind out some tough results and I couldn’t have asked any more of anyone. They’ve all been amazing to work with”.
With only 15 England’s Counties entering the competition in 2022, we are eager to see how the competition is revamped as we believe it has become an essential part of many players season.