John Brown reports on the 2014 English Men’s Curling Championship at Fenton’s:
Alan MacDougall and his team of Andrew Reed, Andrew Woolston, Tom Jaeggi and John Sharp retained their English Men’s Championship in a repeat of last year’s final against Michael Opel, Jamie Malton, Keith Wilson and Henry Carter.
The competition took place over five days as the Olympics were drawing to a close and on a number of occasions the players’ eyes could be seen straying towards the big TV visible through the windows of the clubroom.
There were five teams entered this year, a bit down on the eight of last year, but all of them had the experience and the potential for success. It was the youngest team, led by Ben Fowler, that made the first impression winning their initial three games against Alan MacDougall (9-6) that included a four (not many people score one of those against Alan), James Dixon (8-5) and Michael Opel (9-4) – three notable scalps for the junior team. Their final game in the first round robin saw them lose 5-8 to Bryan Zachary but at this stage, with half the competition over, they shared the lead with Michael Opel on three wins, followed by Alan MacDougall on two and James Dixon and Bryan Zachary on one.
It had been a difficult couple of days for Alan and his team who had lost to Michael Opel by 4-10 in their last game though they defeated James Dixon 12-2 in just five ends, having been 8-0 up after two!
Into the second round-robin, and while Fowler had a bye, MacDougall and Opel scored quick wins over James Dixon (8-3 in six ends) and Bryan Zachary (8-0 in five ends) respectively. Another win for each of them in the following session (including MacDougall beating Fowler 10-4) and the top three teams were now drawing away from the rest so that Zachary and Dixon were able to agree on a peeled game in the next session, neither team fancying an extra end when their chances of qualifying for the final had gone. At the same time Fowler was in a bit of trouble against Opel but a brilliant draw to the button with his last stone gave him the win and kept the team in the competition.
So as the end of the round-robin stage drew to a close Opel, who had a bye in the last session, needed to beat MacDougall in the penultimate one to assure himself of a place in the final but instead it was the latter who won 8-3 and ensured that he would play in the final no matter what happened in the last session.
Michael Opel than had to sit and wait to see if Fowler could win his last game. If Fowler won and MacDougall won then the situation would be MacDougall six, Fowler five, Opel five and Fowler would go through as he had beaten Opel twice in the round-robin. Ironically, if MacDougall lost and Fowler won then Opel would go through to the final as, with the three teams tied on five wins and no clear winner amongst the three of them, the Draw Shot Challenge would decide the top two and Fowler’s DSC was by far the worst of the three.
In the end Fowler lost to a rejuvenated Dixon by 3-11 in just six ends and MacDougall beat a Zachary team, playing without their skip, by 8-2 to set up the repeat of last year’s final which had gone all the way to the last stone.
Michael Opel and his team had had a bye on Sunday morning and when they did arrive at the rink for the final it became apparent that Michael was in some difficulty having hurt his back overnight. As the team had not entered with a fifth player they would either have to play with three or to play, as they eventually did, with Michael throwing lead stones and skipping and Jamie Malton throwing last stones.
This obviously was not the best of things for the team and after MacDougall blanked the first end with the hammer, and then scored three, one, two and two to lead 8-0 at half time it was obvious that the game would be over quite soon. A minor comeback gave the Opel team two in the sixth end but a further two for MacDougall in the seventh end saw hands shaken with the score at 10-2.
So Alan and his team will return to Champéry/Monthey in Switzerland in November where they first played in the Europeans as a team in 2010 – a trip with unhappy memories of shocking ice conditions and long bus trips up and down the mountain.
Photo is © Rosaleen Boardman 2014