National League Final 2004

Sun 9th May
Abbeydale Park
Squash Club, Sheffield

Manchester/Pontefract 4-1 Edgbaston Priory
Lee Beachill beat David Palmer 8-10, 9-3, 10-8 (34m)
James Willstrop beat Adrian Grant 11-9, 7-9, 9-2, 9-6 (45m)
Nick Taylor beat Del Harris 7-9, 9-4, 12-10, 7-9, 9-3 (62m)
Marcus Berrett beat Peter Barker 9-4, 7-9, 9-2, 9-3 (35m)
Madeline Perry lost to Sarah Fitz-Gerald 0-9, 4-9, 0-9 (22m)

Yawar Leads Man/Pont
to National League Title
Howard Harding reports from Sheffield

Manchester/Pontefract beat title-holders Edgbaston Priory 4-1 in today's National Squash League final on the new all-glass court at Abbeydale Park in Sheffield, Yorkshire, to claim the title for the first time and complete the season undefeated.

It was England star James Willstrop, the world No13 from Pontefract, who clinched victory for the trans-Pennine co-operative in the second string match against his England team-mate Adrian Grant. Willstrop, the 20-year-old reigning world junior champion who, with Grant, helped England win the European Team title last week in France, won 11-9 7-9 9-2 9-6 in 45 minutes to put the title beyond the defending champions' reach.

"I've felt we've been the best team all season," said Manchester/Pontefract team manager Yawar Abbas.
"But after coming top in the league, it was great to finish the season with this tremendous victory in the showcase final."

Both Abbas and Edgbaston manager Matt Suckling agreed that the third string battle between Nick Taylor and Del Harris, long-time stalwarts of Manchester/Pontefract and Priory, respectively, was the tie's pivotal clash.

Harris, making his 27th successive League appearance for Edgbaston Priory, took the opening game then lost the next two after a finely-balanced third game which went 12-10 to Taylor. The pair, both now retired from the PSA Tour, delighted the packed audience with an exhilarating display of squash - which went into a fifth game decider when Harris fought back from behind to take the fourth.

Taylor raced to a 5-0 lead in the fifth as Harris battled with a bruised thigh, sustained in a clash with his opponent in the previous game. "Eventually it just locked up and I could barely move," said Harris after Taylor took the crucial match 7-9 9-4 12-10 7-9 9-3 in 62 minutes.

The opening encounter was the women's match between Manchester/Pontefract's Madeline Perry and Priory's Sarah Fitz-Gerald - the former a four-times Irish champion who boasts a career-high world No16 ranking, and the latter a former world No1 from Australia who retired from full-time squash 15 months ago after winning a record fifth world title.

Despite facing an opponent unbeaten in the League for 27 matches since joining Edgbaston nearly four years ago, Perry was upbeat as she went on court. But 22 minutes later, the Halifax-based 27-year-old had suffered a comprehensive 9-0 9-4 9-0 defeat by Fitz-Gerald who was in awesome form.

"I thought I was playing well," said Perry, fresh from last week's European Championships where she notched up a string of good results for Ireland. "But I just never had the chance to play the game I planned - Sarah was just incredible, she was so quick to the ball. She doesn't seem to have lost any of her edge since retiring - on this form, I think she would still beat any of the players in the world top twenty!"

On the adjacent court, Manchester/Pontefract pegged back Priory's early advantage when Marcus Berrett beat fast-improving Essex 20-year-old Peter Barker 9-4 7-9 9-2 9-3 in 35 minutes.

Despite not being the decider that National League followers had hoped, the final top string clash between England's Qatar Classic champion Lee Beachill and Australia's British Open champion David Palmer delighted the Sheffield crowd. Beachill, the Manchester/Pontefract No1 had not enjoyed the best preparation, following the birth of his son Ben last week - but, in a highly entertaining 'dead' rubber, the 26-year-old from Pontefract beat Palmer 8-10 9-3 10-8 in 34 minutes to give his team a 4-1 tie win.

Also see:

INSIDE the final
, by Brian Hargrave

A Purely Personal view, by Steve Cubbins

Taylor shows his worth, by Yawar Abbas


Yawar (3rd from right) with his winning team

National League Site
from SquashPlayer

Taylor shows his Worth
Yawar Abbas reflects ...

Willstrop clinches it!

Fitz gets Priory off to a flyer

Taylor puts Man/Pont 2-1 up

Willstrop wins it for Yawar

Beachill makes it 4-1