Southampton carried off England Hockey’s Vase trophy with a 3-1 win over Yorkshire League champions Brigg – and immediately dedicated their victory to the club’s Director of Coaching Roger Merry, who died last autumn, just before the start of the season.
“It was the most amazing way for us to say thank you to Roger, who was a legend in local hockey,” said departing player/coach Rob O’Brien, who celebrated his farewell Southampton appearance with the opening goal of the final.
“It was Roger who encouraged most of us to take up hockey and, but for him, a lot of us wouldn’t have been at such an iconic venue as the Olympic Park and winning a national final.
“I’m sure he was looking down on us with a smile, analysing and dissecting the game in his own way.
“He was the first person we thought about when the final whistle blew and we went up to collect the cup.”
Southampton became the fifth local side in the past ten years after Andover, Winchester, Camberley & Farnborough and Haslemere to win the Vase.
But against a Scunthorpe-based Brigg side that was looking to add Lea Valley silverware to the Yorkshire League title they clinched recently, they were probably underdogs in the final.
Nonetheless, Southampton took the initiative and were ahead inside five minutes – O’Brien seeing his penalty corner drag flick charged down, but being able to reverse stick the rebound into the bottom left corner.
It was a poignant moment for O’Brien, who was wearing Southampton’s colours for the last time before moving to Newcastle in August.
“It was a see-saw affair until half-time with Brigg pushing forward, but being unable to unlock our defence, where goalkeeper Toby Rigby excelled and skipper Bryn Webber was unflappable,” O’Brien added.
Brigg’s pressure was rewarded with a Dan Clay short corner equaliser nine minutes after the break.
But Southampton’s response was immediate – chances being created before a fine solo run by Oscar Rigby down the left led to a short corner, which George Watling deflected into the top corner to restore the lead.
Brigg pushed forward, but Southampton repelled their attacks before striking the decisive third goal two minutes from the end.
Simon Watson picked out Charlie Griffiths unmarked in the D and the left-back made it 3-1 with a cute deflection and win the cup for Southampton.
It was his one and only goal for the season !
The departing O’Brien choked back the tears of joy on the final whistle.
“To bow out with a national cup winner’s trophy at my childhood club is a dream come true.
“The boys stood up to a strong Brigg team and showed their class and pedigree.
“This a stepping stone for what this first team can go on to succeed,” he smiled.
Skipper Bryn Webber reflected: “There were a lot of nerves, naturally. But the Olympic Park was a fantastic environment to play in and I just hope we get the opportunity to come here again.”
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