2018 Senior Grand Masters Celtic Cup
Lille, France 20-21 April 2018
The Celtic Cup on 20-21 April took place on the new astroturf pitch at Polo Hockey Club 200 Chemin Poivré, 59700 Marcq-en-Barœul, France. The Senior Grand Masters tournament had only two teams, Scotland and Wales, who played each other for the trophy on Friday 20 April 2018, the match ending in a 0-0 draw. In the return match, Scotland took the honours with a 2-1 victory. All matches in the tournament were played in four quarters of fifteen minutes with a ten minute break at half time and an interval of two minutes between quarters.
Scotland 0 Wales 0
Wales opened the match playing a high, pressing game and Scotland took some time to adjust to the pace. The Scottish defence stuck to their task and comfortably mopped up the Welsh attacks, but Scotland found it difficult to move the ball upfield after gaining possession. Scotland suffered a blow when David Margerison was knocked over and injured his shoulder, taking no further part in the match and reducing the Scots to only twelve players. Meanwhile, Wales had a full squad of eighteen, though they used their second string players only for short periods to relieve the starting XI. Even so, the Welsh efforts began to flag as the second quarter wore on and Scotland began to play the passing hockey which coach Murray Paton has been looking for. Good work down the right by Colin Tucker led to a series of Scottish free hits outside the circle, though the Welsh defence stood firm and repelled all Scotland's effort.
The second half was a more open affair, Scotland building up some good moves with excellent, passing hockey, but the final ball eluded them and Wales were always dangerous on the break. From one such break, Scottish keeper Nigel Dixon had a superb save from a Martin Kavanagh cross deflected goalwards by Ben Johnson deflected. In the end, an honourable draw and the hope of better things to come for Scotland.
Scotland retain the championship having won it in 2017, though the match the following day could now be regarded as a decider between the teams.
Scotland 2 (Tucker, Reid) Wales 1 (Kavanagh)
The return match, a friendly/decider between the only two teams, had a bizarre beginning when Scottish keeper Nigel Dixon was unable to take his position at the start of the match after turning his ankle in a hole in the grass warm up area, and coach Murray Paton handed Scotland sweeper Ian Downie the bib which signified his role as kicking back while Nigel had his ankle strapped by the physio. With captain Kieran McLernan unfit to start, that left Scotland with only eleven players and Wales started the match on the offensive. With Ian Downie instructed just to play his normal sweeper game, that gave Scotland an extra player up front and made Wales more cautious than they might otherwise have been when facing a three man defence with no keeper. In the twelve minutes it took Nigel Dixon to resume his normal position, Wales made a couple of opportunities. In the first of these, Ben Johnson found himself one on one on his clubmate and international opponent Ian Downie, who got his stick to the Welsh striker's goalbound effort to send the ball wide. The kicking back had another vital interception when he got his stick to a stray ball which landed between him and Welsh striker Ian Phillips, knocking the ball out of harm's way.
Almost immediately after Scotland's keeper was back between the sticks, David Margerison was forced to leave the field for good after a robust challenge resulted in a recurrence of his shoulder injury from the previous day, and Derrick Reid returned to the field to make up the eleven, with two injured players on the bench. Scotland played a sensible game, players heading Murray Paton's instructions to hold on to the ball and look for simple passes, and the whole team keeping a solid shape which Wales found very difficult to counter. Much of the Welsh game was in midfield where they were in command but their forwards could not get away from the Scottish full backs Alan Bain and Doug Morrice who stuck manfully to their task of close marking their opponents. Ian Downie was always in the right place to intercept any forward pass which could have led to a shot on goal and Nigel Dixon's injury was not put to the test in the remainder of the first half. Scotland were not at all out of it in an attacking sense, Colin Tucker being a constant threat down the right and Roy Crichton keeping the Welsh midfield alert by his strong running. The Scots even managed a couple of short corners during the half (to none for Wales) but neither resulted in a conversion.
Up against a squad of eighteen, the eleven brave souls took the field for the second half determined to press on and make a game of it, and Scotland continued to play the kind of hockey on which all their training had been focused. In fact it was the Welsh players whose play began to deteriorate as they tired, and the midfield domination they had enjoyed in the first half began to wear off. Roy Crichton took advantage of this in the third quarter, running strongly from half way into the Welsh circle, where his cross-goal pass in front of the Welsh keeper was met at the left hand post by Colin Tucker to put Scotland ahead. The goal lifted the Scots, who found energy they did not know they had to continue to play good hockey, while their opponents abandoned their midfield, passing game in favour of trying to overwhelm Scotland with numbers. This tactic rebounded on them when, with every Welsh player apart from their keeper in the Scottish half, a long ball from the Scottish left defence found Scottish debutant Derrick Reid all on his own fifteen metres ahead of the nearest Welsh defender. Derrick, who will be 80 in December, kept his cool, advancing into the circle to take on the keeper. Rather than trying to round the keeper, he waited until the Welshman moved to intercept the ball, and calmly rolled the ball between the hapless guardian's legs towards goal. In spite of the efforts of the last Wales defender to catch up with the ball, it carried serenely on over the line to put Scotland firmly in command at 2-0.
Two goals up and fifteen minutes from victory, Scotland entered the final quarter in a positive mood, gathering the last vestiges of their energy to make it to the end of the match. Wales changed their tactics again and started to fire long balls into the Scottish circle. While none of these was aimed in any particular direction, certainly not towards the forwards who were still being tightly man marked by Messrs Bain and Morrice, they did produce the first of several short corners for Wales when the ball accidentally hit a Scottish foot. Two penalty corners went by without a shot on target but from the third Martin Kavanagh fired in a hard shot which Nigel Dixon, hampered by his injury, was unable to fully stop, and the ball agonisingly bounced on the top of his pad before rolling over the line to give Wales hope of at least a draw. It was not to be, though they had one more short corner which they failed to convert. Scotland kept their discipline, kept their shape and maintained their form right to the end, even forcing a short corner of their own just before the final whistle to ensure that, even though they failed to score from it, they would not lose their well earned victory.
A terrific team performance from Scotland, who were forced to use all of their available forces and whose fringe players stepped up to the plate in the best possible way, contributing to a memorable victory. Kudos to Deadly Derrick, making his first start for Scotland and scoring what turned out to be the winning goal.
Friday 20 April
Scotland 0 Wales 0
Saturday 21 April
Wales 1 (Kavanagh) Scotland 2 Tucker, Reid)
Alan Bain, David Ballingall, Roy Crichton, Nigel Dixon (GK), Ian Downie, Dave Margerison, Kieran McLernan (Captain), Duncan Mitchell, Doug Morrice, Derrick Reid, Murdoch Shirreffs, Colin Tucker, Sandy Weir