If anybody had scripted the climax of Saturday night’s play-off Grand Final second leg tie between Edinburgh Monarchs and Somerset Rebels, it would have been binned for being too far-fetched.
In a truly amazing night of speedway which is unlikely to be surpassed at Armadale in terms of raw drama, Monarchs were crowned Premier League champions for a fourth time by a wafer-thin single point on aggregate (96-95), in a match that produced more twists than your average corkscrew.
Somerset may well think it was a crime that they went down 54-41 having built up a 12-point advantage in their own leg on Friday. But the truth is inescapable. The Rebels allowed Monarchs to haul themselves up off the canvas during that first match after pummelling the Capital side early on, and ultimately their failure to press home that advantage consigned the West Country outfit to their second one-point defeat in the Final in three years – which obviously hurt.
Monarchs clinched the title in nerve-tingling and controversial circumstances, as far as Somerset were concerned, when the destiny of the silverware came down to the last race of the night, the heat 15 top scorers’ race.
Monarchs, who had to survive a stirring comeback from the Rebels in the second half after leading comfortably 32-18 after eight races, required a 5-1 from No.1 Craig Cook and Sam Masters against Nick Morris and Pontus Aspgren to complete their trophy treble for 2014.
The home pair got away smartly with Morris in pursuit. But Aspgren fell on the second bend and made no effort to clear the track, and was clearly hoping to win a rerun. It was the football equivalent of a professional foul. Referee Michael Breckon was having none of it and excluded the Swede while awarding the race to Cook and Masters, which he was entitled to do, because two laps had been completed.
The official’s verdict was the cue for the Monarchs fans to go wild with joy, unaware that yards away in the pits, the Somerset management team were remonstrating at the outcome.
It mattered little. Monarchs have been the best side in the Premier League by a mile this season and despite the invidious nature of the play-offs, morally the correct side came out on top
In an emotional trophy presentation that left Cook tearful, the Whitehaven based rider said: “I owe my life to Edinburgh. Four years ago I didn’t have a team spot with anybody and Edinburgh gave me my big chance, this title win feels very special.
“It feels unbelievable. I’ve never felt anything like this before, Edinburgh are the best club in the country as far as I’m concerned. Andm while this success means a heck of a lot to me, I have done it for the fans, the Edinburgh management, and everyone connected with the club.”
Team-mate Masters feared he had blown it for Monarchs after a mishap in heat 11 handed the Rebels what could easily have proved to be a match changing tactical 8-1 advantage. The Australian got clamped by Rebels guest Aaron Summers on the first bend and spun round, he couldn’t recover and finished last.
Masters said: “I really stuffed up in that race, I was so disappointed with myself that I vowed nobody else was going to beat me for the rest of the night.”
Masters was then involved in a feisty heat 13 skirmish when he and Morris clashed twice in succession on the first bend, and the race took three attempts to run. Eventually Masters and Cook pulled off a vital 5-1 which kept Monarchs’ hopes alive at that stage, when things looked decidedly shaky.
It was felt that Morris, whose reputation tends to precede him, had taken Masters into the fence on purpose, but Masters insisted: “Me and Nick had a coming together, but the league title was at stake so no one is going to give in.” We always have some good races against each other.”
Masters added: “That heat 15 decider was unreal, I have honestly never felt pressure like it, but hey, I must be good under pressure! We won the league by a point, someone is looking down on us I think.
“This has been the best time of my career and I can’t wait to come back next season, I’ve had a ball and have loved living in Scotland. And what a team this has been.”
That was the verdict echoed by Justin Sedgmen, whose paid maximum made up for his poor score in the first match. “I rode s*** in that match so to get double figures at home in the second leg was great for me personally. It has been the best year of my life and to ride with Cookie as his partner has been so cool, all the boys are legends in my eyes.”
It was Aaron Fox, who has been under some fire this season, who truly atoned by snatching a third place point for a 3-3 in heat 14 which set up the 5-1 in the next race for outright glory.
The Californian said: “I was under instructions to get a point from that heat and knew just how important it was to go out and do it. And I’m glad I managed it! This has been an awesome first season for me with Monarchs and to win the league and two cup finals is a dream come true for me.”
Monarchs team manager Alex Harkess said the heat 15 stramash in no way detracted from the achievements of his side this year. He said: “The meeting was incredible and what a way to end the Premier League season. Words desert me and I could not have written that script.
“It was perhaps not the way we wanted the match to end but we were perfectly happy with the referee’s decision. We have deserved to win everything this season, we have been the top side from the start, and nobody can argue, or should argue with that. I think this Monarchs team is the best ever.”
Monarchs crocked ace Steve Worrall, whose broken wrist kept him out of the Final, received his gold medal and said: “I can report my wrist is getting better. I was gutted not to be able to ride, but being part of this squad in 2014 has been simply fantastic. We all got along from the off and produced some results that even surprised us, and to bag a clean sweep of all the major trophies in the Premier League is really superb.”
Max Fricke added that picking up a winners’ medal in only his second season with Monarchs was “a great feeling”. “Everybody has worked so hard for each other over this year and have helped each other out when needed. It has underlined just how well we all got along, the team spirit was strong from the start.
“We have pulled off some great results this year and turned out to be the side nobody wanted to face.”
Co promoter John Campbell said: “This year’s team has been the best team I have worked with. Our performances have been outstanding and to win the title in front of our own fans for the first time is special and I can’t really express how proud I am of them all.”
Somerset team boss Garry May said: “Congratulations to Edinburgh – they have been the form team of the season, but we pushed them so hard in that second leg. Unfortunately someone always has to lose in these circumstances, but to lose by just one point on aggregate twice in three years is a bit hard to take right now. But we will fight back stronger next year, to try and reclaim our title next season.”
Monarchs: Cook 14, Sedgmen 12, Fricke 11, Masters 11, Fox 3, Sneddon 3.
Somerset: Starke 10, Morris 9, Aspgren 8, Summers 6, Wright 4, Kurtz 4.