A fantastic result for the Bay with Devoy Squash winning the coveted Cousins Shield for the first time. The Bay has not lifted the shield that decides the strongest club in men's squash in NZ since 1988. The Cousin's Shield (men's) and Mitchell Cup (women's) are the pinnacle teams events for NZs top players, and they are highly sought-after titles. Each club gathers together their best talent, and event rules allow for one imported player for each team, which the serous contenders all take advantage of. The Devoy team was made up of entirely home-grown talent along with returning pro from last year, Josh Larkin from Australia. The line-up was Larkin at 1, Ben Grindrod at 2, Jamie Oakley at 3, Alex Oakley at 4, Josh Oakley at 5, and Sean Dykes as the reserve.
Devoy were not considered serious threats to take the title this year. Lining up as 5th seeds, they did not feature in any pre-event predictions. Coach John Oakley said “This win is absolutely amazing, the boys have worked hard and had some spectacular performances. We weren’t expected to win, but we believed we could and we’ve done it”.
The opening encounter saw Devoy Squash in a dominant display of squash outplaying Christchurch Squash & Football Club in a 5/0 win. That was the only comfort the team would experience on the road to the title, as their seeding meant they had a very tough draw. The next opponents were two-time defending champions Squashways from Christchurch who they managed to pip 3/2. Jamie Oakley had the match of his life taking down A1 player Oliver Johnston in a tight fought 3/1 win (9/11, 11/9, 11/9, 12/10) and to move Oakley into the higher A1 elite status.
Taking on the top seeds Whangarei Squash Club in the semi-finals, Devoy took a good lead with wins from Ben Grindrod against Luke Jones and Jamie Oakley scalping another A1 Michael Sunderland 3/1. It was Josh Oakley who secured the team’s finals spot with a win over Brent Lewis 3/0 in a fine performance by the younger player with clinical backhand drops and smart shot selection. The matches were brutal and exhausting with most matches taking over an hour each.
The home town heroes Herne Bay (2nd seeds) were not about to hand the title to Devoy in the finals in front of a packed crowd. Chris Lloyd took an early 2/0 lead over the tired Jamie Oakley and looked set to take the match before Oakley found another gear and grappled the next two games to level the score, but it was Lloyd who held his nerve to take the win.
The next match saw Josh Oakley of Devoy matched up against Ed Dromgool. It was a nailbiting and high intensity start. Both players had opportunities with game balls but it was eventually Oakley who took the first game 15/13 with an emotional fist pump. Desperately wanting the title, Oakley was all class in a match full of hard hitting, quick movement, stellar pickups and plenty of dives. Both players put everything out there with Oakley winning the match 3/1.
Next up was Josh Larkin for Devoy taking on Peter Creed (Wales) ranked #60 in the world for Herne Bay. Creed took the game lead 2/0 and looked set to take the match but Larkin threw everything on the line for his team. With some amazing retrieval and shot play, Larkin came back and claimed a thrilling match 3/2 which sent the Devoy supporters into a frenzy.
Ben Grindrod took the court against Herne Bay’s George Crosby who was looking to keep the Herne Bay team in the title hunt. In another exceptional display, Devoy’s Ben Grindrod cleaned up Crosby 3/0 to clinch the title for the Devoy team and make history.
“This means a lot to the team and also our club Devoy Squash & Fitness Centre. This is one to celebrate!” said John. This is great achievement for the club who have a busy calendar ahead this year hosting the World Junior Squash Championships (July) and the NZ Doubles Championships (September).
While there were no Bay of Plenty teams entered in the women's event, two Bay player lined up for their adopted club Thorndon from Wellington. In a topsy-turvy competition, Thorndon made their way to the finals where Abby Wotten and Jo Shanks managed to secure important victories to take the title 3/1 in the final. it was the first Mitchell Cup title for long-time Bay player Jo Shanks after many attempts.