Monarchs claim Grand Final spoils yet again

The jubilant Monarchs team celebrate their title. Pic: Ron MacNeill
The jubilant Monarchs team celebrate their title. Pic: Ron MacNeill
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If Edinburgh Monarchs felt slightly nervous before Saturday’s Play-off Grand Final second-leg tie against Glasgow Tigers, they covered up their anxieties like the professionals they are and nobody would have guessed.

In the end they had nothing to worry about as they were crowned British Premier League speedway champions for a fifth time in front of the biggest ever crowd during the Armadale era.

Monarchs, who were chasing a seven-point deficit from the first leg at Ashfield overwhelmed their arch foes 58-32 to reclaim their title 99-80 on aggregate. And they became the first side in the modern play-off era to win back-to-back championships since Glasgow achieved the feat in the nineties.

Despite a jittery start to the match and suffering two fallers in successive heats, Monarchs put the silverware out of Glasgow’s reach when skipper Craig Cook and Sam Masters powered to a 5-1 in heat 13, which sparked off fireworks and a mini exodus from some Tigers fans.

Glasgow had big money behind them this season to try and end Monarchs dominance over them. But the Capital outfit proved beyond doubt that if you can mould seven individuals into a cohesive scoring unit with team spirit very much to the fore, no amount of blank cheques can buy that magic blend.

Cook admitted he wasn’t sure how things would work out this year having set the gold standard in 2014. “It feels absolutely amazing to win the league again,” he said. “At the start of the season I didn’t know how we would go, but over time we just got better. I can’t describe how it feels and to have skippered the side for the first time was unbelievable for me.

“It’s been a honour to be captain of this team and Edinburgh are the most prestigious club in the UK.”

Cook’s partnership with Justin Sedgmen has been among the most productive in the league and the Aussie admitted he doesn’t want this success to end. “It feels so cool to win two in a row,” he said. “And since I came to Edinburgh I have gone from strength to strength. I have had two great years and it has been easy to go out and win matches – it has become a habit for us.

“This is my home at Armadale and I don’t want it to end.”

One man who had more reason than most to celebrate was Saturday’s top scorer Kevin Wolbert, who explained: “Glasgow didn’t want me after I rode for them last season, so I’m absolutely happy about this victory and so glad that Edinburgh asked me to return to Armadale, I feel so good.”

And for Wolbert’s fellow German Erik Riss, who received his winner’s medal while his father looked on, this has been a special debut year for the youngster. “When I came here it helped me that Kevin was in the team,” Riss acknowledged. “But it has been so good to be part of such a great side and I must thank Edinburgh for giving me my big chance in the UK.”

Sam Masters, who had a nightmare in the first leg, scoring just five points, revealed he sought divine intervention to redress that lowly return. “I don’t usually pray, but I was in the workshop by myself on Saturday and prayed to God,” he said. “And he helped me.”

Masters apologised for his Ashfield showing, adding: “I was buried in the ground six feet under but I pulled things together on Saturday making four good starts. I owed Edinburgh big time after they stuck by me when I was refused a visa. I love riding for them.”

Monarchs reserve Max Clegg was perhaps under greater scrutiny than anyone and tasked with keeping his Tigers opposite number James Sarjeant at bay. Clegg was magnificent, picking up eight points from his five starts, his win in heat two setting Monarchs on the path to glory.

Clegg had every reason to smile. Not only was he named Monarch of the Year by team sponsors Border Roofing, earning him an £1,000 cheque, company boss Eddie McKenna also handed over an undisclosed sum for Clegg to purchase 
himself a new bike.

“That was an amazing gesture,” said Clegg. “I’ve had a few bike repairs this year which has been quite tough for me. Stepping up into the Premier League from the National League was a big step, but it’s been brilliant and I want to be back, 100 per cent in 2016.”

Co-promoter John Campbell, who never wavered in his belief that his side would win the title again, added: “As the season wore on everything just came together as I knew it would. We had a strong top four and that was the perfect situation for us.”

Glasgow really toiled after losing captain Aaron Summers from their Ashfield leg with a wrist injury, and Summers confessed: “It was a massive blow. We came to Armadale with a lead to defend and the boys did their best and everything that was asked of them.

“For me personally to miss the deciding leg was a huge let down because I have been in the form of my life. We have done well to finish runners-up and hopefully next year we can go one better.”

Monarchs: Wolbert 13, Masters 12, Cook 9, Sedgmen 9,Clegg 8, Riss 6, Carr 1.

Glasgow: Lawson 10, Morris 9, Stichauer 5, Sarjeant 5, Palovaara 2, Pijper 1.