Little Lever’s Phil Riley has an intense, stone-like face. He resembles a camper with his grey, baggy shorts and sky-blue top but there will be no polite frying of bacon and eggs tonight. He is a bear catcher – a grizzled human with few smiles and little diplomacy. A late entrant to the Individual Divisional Championships, Riley wishes to cut through the shaking of hands and traditional pre-match warm ups and just make a grab for the trophy.
The draw is kind to him. Only seven Premier players have entered this still-respectable cup out of a possible forty and Riley has avoided the ‘group of death’ (Barry Elliott, Jordan Brookes, Dennis Collier and David Bolton). The other ‘half’ following a late withdrawal from maverick, Paul Brandwood consists of Frenchman Frederic Turban, ‘Animal’ Andy Kaye and Phil Riley.
All of them have pedigrees of sorts; the most notable being Elliott – Closed Championship Singles Winner (2013) and reigning IDC Champion (2012). His trophy cabinet requires the handiwork of a joiner each year it is rumoured.
Group Two unfolds as expected: 44% man, Riley edging past weaker opponents, Kaye (3-1) and Turban (3-2); the latter keeping his nerve to qualify nonetheless at the expense of Kaye (3-2).
Group One is the bedraggled show everyone expected: Elliott 3-0 Bolton; Collier 3-2 Brookes; Brookes 3-2 Elliott; Collier 3-2 Bolton; Brookes 3-2 Bolton; plenty of permutations going into the last match (Elliott Vs Collier) with no one mathematically through.
Elliott, reluctant to cancel the services of his joiner, relentlessly attacks the Collier mettle. Home (3-1)! Another semi-final.
The ensuing ‘last four’ match against Turban proves to be academic (11-8, 11-7, 11-2) – Elliott toying with him near the end, his ‘impossible’ backhand top spins ripping through the Turban defence.
Not so with Brookes Vs Riley. A flat, forehand whack of near-petulance clinches the first set for Brookes (12-10) but what follows is a lunging, Desmond Douglas-like master class from Riley. Absolute conviction and intent seal it for him (11-7, 11-5, 11-9).
The worthy final sees underdog Riley facing the 84% might of Elliott. Riley, respectful of nothing and with the reach of a Bornean orangutan, reverses a 7-9 deficit to take the first set 14-12. Aggression and speed ease home the second (11-6). Is there an impostor on the premises? No – Elliott has simply met a hungrier opponent. An excruciating ending sees Riley crowned champion (8-11, 6-11, 11-6).
Other IDC finalists:
Div1 Derek Watmough (W) Bob Bent (RU)
Div2 Mathew Fishwick (W) Steve Hunt (RU)
Div3 John Nuttall (W) John Barker (RU)
Div4 Ray Isherwood (W) Keith Phillips (RU)