This weekend sees the NEMLA Flags Final Weekend where teams of all ages and across all senior divisions congregate to play their respective cup finals, the culmination of an entire season of hard work and effort.
Featuring a fixture-packed schedule with 24 teams battling it out for the honour of being crowned cup champions for their age group/division, this weekend is the highlight in English club lacrosse and is sure to be well attended by fans in their droves flocking to see UK lacrosse at it’s most competitive and hard-hitting.
The main spectacle for the weekend is the Senior Flags Final (which faces of at 15:00 on Sunday), and is considered to be the most prestigious lacrosse competition in the nation. The Senior Flags competition is the oldest in the UK, having first been played in 1883 as the award for the club’s battling it out in the highest division in the North of England (The Premiership). Originally, the trophy on offer was a finely-embroidered flag depicting two lacrosse players dressed in the kit of their period stood on either side of a shield. This has been on permanent display at Stockport lacrosse club since 1898 awarded to them after their early domination of the competition.
Today the Senior Flag’s trophy now consists of two flags used to represent the flags which were originally used as goals in the early days of the sport, depicting the shield from the original flag along with the names of each year’s successful team embroidered and detailed upon it.
This year’s showdown is one for the record books, featuring a club making their inaugural appearance in the final (Poynton) battling it out against the most successful team in Flags history and seemingly perennial finalists, Cheadle.
Cheadle have been a mainstay of Northern Premiership lacrosse for over 100 years and their domination of the Flags competition is something all clubs aspire to emulate. Having played in an incredible 25 finals, winning 18 of them for an unrivalled 72% success rate, Cheadle have been ever-present contender in the final for a staggering 6 consecutive years, winning the past 2 in a period of all-conquering cup glory. Whilst they have had a disappointing (by their own high standards) league season, Cheadle have the track record and experience of delivering on the big stage repeatedly and with a squad glittering with international experience (90% of the team has represented their country on the international stage), they have the talent and ability to put on a display of the very highest standard of lacrosse which the fans will be eager to witness yet again.
Standing in Cheadle’s way are Poynton, a team who, whilst they are appearing in their first Senior Flags Final in their 127-year history, are anything but underdogs in this season’s encounter. Finishing 2nd in the league (ahead of Cheadle) and registering landmark victories against Stockport in the league and cup as well as beating Cheadle earlier in the season, Poynton have taken this season to task, breaking club records galore and winning over increasing legions of fans along the way who have been impressed and inspired by Poynton’s breakthrough from a big small club to genuine silverware contenders.
Spearheaded by LTP’s very own (and England Captain) Sam Russell and managed by another LTP staff member Mike Bartlett, Poynton have set about dismantling the premiership duopoly of Cheadle and Stockport and have taken it upon themselves to break the perceived invulnerability of the so-called “Big Two”, registering impressive victories against them both in the league as well as a challenging route to the final against Rochdale, Heaton Mersey and a nail-biting Semi-Final overtime winner against Stockport.
This Poynton side have confounded their doubters along the way this year and regardless of the result on Sunday, this season will be the most successful in their history having finished with their highest-ever league position, their first-ever Flags Final (and Semi-Final!), their longest win streak, longest undefeated streak, most goals scored and least conceded in the premiership as well as the first time they have ever beaten Cheadle in the Premiership, the first time they have beaten Stockport in the cup and the first time they have beaten Heaton Mersey in successive league matchups.
Their success thus far has been built on the togetherness and belief in their abilities this squad have garnered over the course of the year and since losing to Stockport way back in November, they have never felt like they weren’t able to win every game in which they have played in, registering W’s from losing positions as well as comfortable leads, showing they have the ability to mix it up when required.
Poynton’s squad features a smattering of current and ex-Team England stars and MLL Superstar and LTP student Jovan Miller has brought his incredible experience to the fore throughout the year to instil a level of belief the club has previously only dreamed of harbouring, something which has permeated throughout the club and has become the mantra of The Blackbirds’ season.
In order to inscribe their name into the history books forever, Poynton will need to counteract the fluid attacking movement of Cheadle who, on their day, play the smartest inside attacking game in the country, feeding cutters with laser feeds to lethal finishers galore. Supporting this attack is a combative midfield with one of the best face-off specialists in the English game in Chris Brady playing in front of one of the most solid defensive units in the UK featuring defensive juggernauts of Wilkinson, Bevington, Jones and Anderton (GK), a battalion which boasts dozens of flags winners medals and international caps and one which few teams manage to breakdown. Cheadle are zen masters of the patient game and their metronome continues to tick to their dictated rhythm throughout a game whether they are 3 goals ahead or 3 goals behind. Cheadle are solid and hardworking and their man-up is arguably the best in the country, with each player knowing his compatriot’s mind and moves at every stage.
Can The Blackbirds from Poynton cause the biggest upset in Flags History or will the history books continue with the same story as old?
Whatever happens, the fans will undoubtedly be treated to a spectacle befitting and deserving of the occasion and whoever emerges as victors will have earned the respect of their peers and competitors throughout the English game.
Best of luck to both teams in what will be an intriguing matchup!