Last Saturday saw the inaugural matches in the new Senior County Championships format where counties play each other at centralised venues over three weekends throughout the season rather than travel home and away for individual fixtures. North’s first team travelled to Harrogate to play Yorkshire 4 and Ulster in their opening Division 2 North fixtures, playing over the best of 11 rubbers with 2 of each discipline except for men’s singles where a third is played.
North didn’t start well in the singles and only Richie Eaton troubled the scorers, recovering well from a set down to take it 18-21,21-18,21-17. 4-1 down then going into the two men’s doubles and North’s top string of Malcolm Lightbown and Steve Swan secured victory in two sets to pull one back. Kristian Stuart and Tom Appleyard had meanwhile taken their opening set before being pegged back to one set all by Richard Simpson and Russell Binns. The third set was close throughout with Kristian and Tom reaching match point first only to be edged out 22-20.
North 5-2 down now and their backs against the wall with all the 4 remaining rubbers needed for victory. Kate McGill and Hilda Carr brought them closer with a straight sets win and with Lucy Dixon and Rachel Frobisher taking their opening set 22-20 the comeback was still on. Back came the hosts though to take an equally tight second set 21-19 and, try as they might, Lucy and Rachel could not get ahead and they went down 21-17.
The match gone then at 6-3 but, with every rubber counting as a point this year, North made a determined start to the mixed with Mal and Lucy just taking their opener 22-20 but then clinching the second set comfortably to 15. Steve and Rachel had meanwhile gone to a third set but were not to be denied clinching their decider by the same score.
The final score 6-5 to Yorkshire with North disappointed but still with 5 points on the board as they prepared themselves for what was likely to be a stern test in the afternoon against one of the favourites for the Division 2 North title in Ulster.
They were as strong as ever boasting three full internationals in Tony Stephenson, Tony Murphy and Sinead Chambers and North again started badly in the face of such opposition to trail 5-0 after the singles and needing every doubles rubber for a match victory.
Unfortunately things were to get worse before they got better with Stephenson and Murphy taking the top string men’s doubles in two sets before Kristian and Tom, in nearly identical fashion to their Yorkshire match, found themselves in a tight decider but this time they were not to be denied and held on well to take it 22-20.
North on the scoreboard then at 6-1 but with Chambers to the fore in the top string ladies doubles that soon became 7-1, and with Lucy and Rachel losing their opening set narrowly 22-20 it was not looking good! Back they came to establish control in the second set though, taking it 21-15 and they maintained that control to take the decider by the same score.
Could North take both mixed as they had in the morning against Yorkshire? You bet they could, despite Mal and Lucy losing a set, they took their decider with some ease 21-12 and Steve, this time partnered by Kate, took the second string game 21-15,21-19. So more spirited resistance from North and who knows how vital those two rubbers could yet be in the final analysis, the final score 7-4 to Ulster.
North’s first team are next in action on Saturday 12th December when they travel to Huddersfield University to take on Glasgow & North Strathclyde 2 and Lancashire 3.