Sussex finally put the heartbreak of three near misses behind them when they claimed an impressive victory at the 2021 English Senior Men’s County Finals.
Knowing that a final day win against Dorset would guarantee them their first title, Sussex recorded an emphatic 6.5-1.5 triumph.
That result sparked joyous celebrations that have been four years in the making for Rick Thomas and many of his team.
For three consecutive years from 2017, Sussex were the bridesmaids in this event.
On two of those occasions they had the trophy ripped from their grasp right at the death by some inspired play from Yorkshire and Lancashire.
This time around they made no mistake and ended the week as deserved champions with wins against Warwickshire and Dorset and a halved match with Yorkshire allowing them to finish the series undefeated.
Warwickshire finished in runner up position ahead of defending champions Yorkshire and Dorset.
“These guys have deserved it for the last four years and now they’ve actually done it.” – Rick Thomas
For captain Thomas, the victory was special and sweet for so many from the county who have worked titrelessly behind the scenes and had to endure some crushing disappointments along the way
“I’m exhausted…it’s taken four years to get here,” confirmed the Sussex skipper after sealing the win at Grange Park Golf Club in St Helens.
“These guys have deserved it for the last four years and now they’ve actually done it.
“It’s sweet, but not for me…it’s for these guys who have worked so hard to do it.
“It’s been taken from their grasp on three occasions and it’s great credit to them and I’m very proud of them.
“We’ve not done this before – our name’s not on the trophy yet, but it will be now and hopefully it will stay on there in years to come.”
Steve Graham was part of the squad which has had one hand on the trophy in past two occasions it was played only for Sussex to somehow snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
The Ireland international said: “It’s fantastic.
“The last three years it’s been won by other teams and they have enjoyed their moment and I’m sure we will enjoy our moment.
“Even today we halted on congratulating ourselves until we got across the line.
“It was hard work against three good counties and it’s never easy.
“I suppose it was ours to lose – but we turned up and performed brilliantly.
“The guys have done brilliantly as a team
“As the Ryder Cup boys show, there’s nothing better than winning as a team and we’ll enjoy this moment.”
There were various permutations at play on the final day which could have seen Dorset and Warwickshire pip Sussex to the title.
However, the artithmetic for Sussex was straightforward. A win against Dorset would see them crowned county kings.
As if inspired by this thought and perhaps spurred on by the prospect of exorcising ghosts of the past, Sussex flew out the traps.
From very early on in the final day’s play it became clear there was only going to be one winner.
Graham secured the first point for Sussex with a thumping 5&4 win over David Barton.
Martin Galway followed that up with a 4&2 triumph against John Smith and Andrew Smith nailed another point with a 2&1 victory over Phil Bill.
With the teams being awarded half a point each for the top match which didn’t take place due to an injury to Dorset’s Tony Coles, the South East region champions needed just one more point to get over the line.
The 4.5 points mark was reached when both Colin Jones and Paul Plant were guaranteed at least half a point from their games by going dormie two up.
In the end, both men won their games on the final hole and the Sussex side were able to begin the celebrations for real.
Just for good measure Martin King and Doug Park contributed half points from the bottom two matches safe in the knowledge that the win was already in the bag.
Warwickshire harboured slim hopes of winning the title going into the final day. The Midlands champions needed Sussex to draw with Dorset and ensure they won their match against Yorkshire by two points or more.
In the end, Sussex’s win put paid to any thought of victory and Warwickshire signed off with a 4-4 draw against Yorkshire.
Warwickshire’s winners in the final match were Ken Spencer, Dave Mason, Tim Cooley and Stephen Creed.
Yorkshire put points on the board thanks to Richard Norton, Andy Woodhead, Stephen East and Ian Clarke.
The week, though, belonged to Sussex and the joyous celebrations pointed to just how much the win meant to the players, support staff and county supporters.