When Halifax-Huddersfield Union senior manager Frank Greaves offered to take on the junior team as well earlier this year he did so with the ambitious aim of one of the sides tasting Yorkshire Inter-District Union title triumph within four years.
The breadth of his ambition can be gauged against the backdrop of the senior side having won their championship against the county’s seven other unions just once in its 44-year history and the juniors never in 32 years of trying.
Not until this year, that is, when the juniors not only won the YIDU championship, but did so with a perfect seven from seven record.
To emphasise the enormity of this achievement even further, Halifax-Huddersfield’s junior side had won only two of 14 matches in the previous two seasons – and on one occasion forfeited a match through lack of numbers.
“It still hasn’t sunk in. It’s bewildering really,” says Greaves, who used just 18 players for matches involving 12 a side in two sessions, one of six foursomes and one of 12 singles.
His description of the accomplishment being “bewildering” may be due to a reluctance to appear immodest for Greaves – having put his head “above the parapet” to take on the role and formulate the four-year plan – set about putting in place a structure that would give Halifax-Huddersfield the best possible chance of fielding the top juniors available from the union’s 23 affiliated clubs.
“I got information from golf clubs about their juniors and I built a database,” explains Greaves.
“I developed a network of people at the clubs and we applied some good admin and I said, ‘Come on, if we’re going to have a go, we’re going to have a go properly’.”
Pre-season, Greaves consulted junior team captain James Edwards, also of Huddersfield, and discovered there were some players on his newly-built database with handicaps that would have got them into the Halifax-Huddersfield juniors line-up last year.
“We found some players that the main group weren’t aware of, and I said, ‘Let’s pick the 12 best players we’ve got’ and away we went,” continues Greaves. “I spoke to James at the beginning of the year and said, ‘Who plays with who?’ and then I observed, and we got some others in and we made some changes – and we played two and won two.
“All of a sudden you create interest and then the parents were on board and they began to show up. They said to me, ‘You made it important, you made it worth something’.
“I put some importance on it, and I put some tactics on it and gave them a plan and said, ‘This is what we’re trying to do’. Once the team is enjoying it the parents begin to enjoy it too.”
Edwards led by example, combining with Lightcliffe’s Harry Mowl to win all seven of their foursomes matches at the top of the order.
Two other ever-presents were George Hanson (Crosland Heath) and Dylan Shaw-Radford (Huddersfield).
Another Fixby player, Ben Walker, played in five of the first six matches and won all 12 of his matches, while Matthew Holden (Woodsome Hall) was unbeaten in his three match appearances.
The champions have no intention of resting on their laurels.
“We’ve coached 33 juniors this year, but none of those 33 have played in any of the teams yet,” says Greaves. “That’s for the future. I think we had nine juniors from Halifax-Huddersfield Union in the Yorkshire autumn and winter coaching squads of which three weren’t known to our junior structure and I thought that was bizarre or whatever word you would like to use. So they were involved straight away.”
Greaves ensured he kept on top of who was playing well by constant analysis of the results of district junior competitions.
Players are eligible if they are under 18 on January 1 of the year of competition – which means Halifax-Huddersfield will lose five of their championship-winning squad next year – Edwards, Seb Crabtree and Tom Pearson (Woodsome Hall), Lewis Eccles (Dewsbury) and Kian Sutcliff (West End).
However, Greaves added: “There are a couple, Louie Walsh (Crow Nest Park) and Dylan Shaw Radford, who have only just turned 13, so they have got a lot more years.”