SOUTH WEST PENINSULA LEAGUE REVIEW OF THE SEASON
BY DAVE POTHAM
It was an extremely exciting season for South East Cornwall’s clubs with Saltash United narrowly missing out on securing the South West Peninsula League title while also finishing runners-up in the Cornwall Senior Cup.
Torpoint Athletic had another excellent run in the FA Vase. Callington Town meanwhile ended the season on a high with three straight wins.
In Division One West, Millbrook, after struggling for two seasons and almost going under due to off field financial problems, finally got their act together by finishing in a highly impressive fourth place.
Liskeard Athletic can also look back on a season where the young team managed an above mid-table position. Likewise Dobwalls can feel proud of their performance by more than doubling their points total of the previous season.
The Ashes came within a whisker of winning their first title since their 1986-87 season triumph in the old South Western League.
Manager Matt Cussack said: ‘It’s been a bit of a roller coaster season for us. Within close quarters we expected to do better than 6th like the previous campaign.
‘We set objectives to be in a title race and try to make an assault on the cup competitions. Being in a title race until the very last week and getting to a cup final is a measure of progress.
‘No qualms about losing league to Tavistock as they were the best side we played in the campaign.
‘Ironically in the cup final against Bodmin we created more than chances in that game than we did in either of the two league campaigns where we took four points from them.
‘Although disappointed with two runners-up in two competitions I am immensely proud of the achievements. These included 10 straight wins to a new campaign equalling a league record, 21 clean sheets a new league record, 90 points highest points tally for the club in SWPL, three players nominated for the Cornwall squad (Lewis Russell, Dave Trott, Ryan Richards) and 10 points from 12 against Bodmin and St Austell, the previous season’s first and second.
‘Next season we aim to kick on again and are looking forward to the FA Vase competition as well.’
The best news for the club came when prolific striker Ryan Richards agreed to remain with the club despite overtures from other clubs. Richards was awarded manager’s player, players’ player and supporters player at the clubs presentation evening.
The other good news is that the Ashes have entered the FA Vase but will not know if they have been accepted until after the draw is made on Friday July 7.
They could not enter the competition last season due to the dug-outs being too small, something which has now been dealt with.
Torpoint Athletic manager Dan Cole reflected on the season by saying: ’The season of 2016-17 was one that at its mid stage was full of hope and optimism.
‘After a slow start we went on a run of games where we only lost four in 22. This run saw us comfortably in a mid table position and winning four games in the FA Vase where we went down in the third round 2-0 at Bradford Town.
‘Our true hope of silverware was in the Cornwall Senior Cup where after winning some difficult away games to lower league opposition we started firmly believing in the momentum we had gained.
‘After a narrow lose to Falmouth in the quarter final and weeks later saw us lose our captain Dave Smith with a double leg fracture after a horrifying challenge by a Witheridge player. These two moments had an impact on the players and caused us to have to rethink our plans.
‘After the games in February we added a number of youngster into the squad as we began to rebuild for next season.
‘The end of the season saw us put in some outstanding performances which led to impressive victories over teams such as Plymouth Parkway and Tiverton Town Reserves.
‘Unfortunately we were guilty throughout the season of not killing off games when we were on top, in total 12 occasions saw us lose by a one goal margin or give away points in the last few minutes.
‘Off the pitch this season we as a club have invested heavily in infrastructure. We want to provide the best environment around for our players and so this was essential to take the Club forward.
‘Building a new stand down the length of one side of the ground; a total refurbishment of the social club and function room; replacing our floodlights; improving our playing surface by purchasing pitch maintenance equipment; extending our catering facilities and improving the changing rooms.
‘This coupled with the reserve side once again winning the ECPL we have taken great strides forward. For the first team, this was a season for growing, learning and developing and with some additions next season we hope to be stronger both on and off the pitch.’
Callington Town chairman Andrew Long reflected on the season, saying: ‘It is fair to say this has been a tough season for our very changed side.
‘The change in players during the pre-season left us with a depleted squad but I have been very pleased with the way the new input has gelled with the existing experienced players.
‘With our second team being much changed with many Duchy players stepping up to East Cornwall league meant that we have had to look elsewhere for players while they challenged for honours.
‘It is not easy to pick out players but the stalwart performances of Michael Lucas, Chris Lock, Dan Jefferis and Sam Borthwick have been pivotal in the late fight for Premier Division safety and the experience of Matt Thackeray and Harry Southcott helped us to secure survival with a late surge.
‘Dean Cardew joins the club next season and the club wishes him well and will be supporting him all the way as we aim to climb the league in the upcoming campaign.’
Millbrook came through a traumatic period where the club almost folded, but hastily set up a crowd fund which raised almost £7,000 to save the club.
This allowed the team to push on for their highest position (fourth) in their third season in the division.
Part of this success was former Edgcumbe player manager McKenzie Brown joining Ryan Swiggs as a management duo along with some of the Edgcumbe team who had finished second on the East Cornwall League.
Brown said: ‘It was a summer of significant change at Millbrook, with a new management structure and a lot of new faces in the changing room it was difficult to know exactly what to expect of the upcoming season, but a top half finish was the aim.
‘Although after going down to Mousehole on the first game of the season and getting beaten 4-1, I felt that aim may of needed to be re-evaluated if that was the standard of the league because they were outstanding.
‘The squad soon settled, Tom Payne and Lee Hawkins came in mid-season and both have made fantastic contributions and we built a side that had both great ability and resilience but at times lacked the mentality needed when the going got tough – but that certainly improved.
‘There was obviously some real difficulties off the pitch which have been well documented, but that galvanised the players if anything and we had a group who really wanted to fight for the club.
‘We had too many excellent individual performers to mention, but Jake Foster cleaned up at the clubs awards night for a good reason, he’s been our match winner this season and Josh Toulson has played with maturity beyond his 17 years in a very tough league.
‘Overall, we can be delighted with the season, a 4th place finish and reaching the quarter finals of the Senior Cup was above our initial expectations.
‘Looking forward, we hope the experience of this season, a couple of new faces coming in and a stronger relationship with our ECPL side can see us challenge further next year.’
The Blues can look back on a season that saw the youngsters come through with credit to finish in an above mid table position.
Liskeard were fortunate in having young striker James Lorenz within their ranks which enabled them to be more competitive up front.
The club flirted with relegation but an excellent run of 11 games with just one defeat saw them finish in a highly creditable eighth place.
Joint manager Richard Woods said: ‘A difficult start to the season by losing our keeper, then our replacement goalkeeper went to Godolphin after five games.
‘We asked our young 16 year old (Luke Gwillam) to step up and in our opinion he will be a top keeper but he wasn’t ready yet.
‘We found Martin Piper to go in goal for us and from that point started to play with more confidence and we turned in some decent results.
‘I still believe we play the game the right way and if we can add two or three players, next season should hopefully pus us further up in the league.’
Dobwalls manager Craig Holman said: ‘What a season the club has taken. It’s been a big step forward on and off the pitch.’
Holman added: ‘I am proud of the lads on and off the pitch. I was asked many times at the start of the season what my aim was and my answer was always middle of the table and yes that’s what we achieved.
‘It was great going sixth playing to go fifth etc though the table never lies at the end. 28 points more than last season was achieved and yes we conceded though we doubled our goals scored.
‘There were some very memorable games with the two that stick out three nill down to Penzance at half time to win 5 3 win and of course the 5-0 win on Boxing Day against Liskeard.’
Holman continued: ‘To get to where we have is down to the players commitment. A massive thank you to Al, Bob and Mark top management team we now move on with my aim of top eight next season.’
Off the field, Dobwalls welcomed former Plymouth Argyle boss and now Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock to the official opening of their new clubhouse at Lantoom Park.