Looking at the teamsheets, one would be forgiven for thinking this fixture was a cup battle, with a shortlist of greats from the Senators of old. Gilman had managed to pull a number of staunch competitors out of obscurity, and this was a game to be savoured. A squad of Gilman, Baldock, Easterbrook, Pratt, Finlayson, and Sumser certainly has all the hallmarks of a classic.
However, this was the fight of the new age. The headlines from the game were very much about building the team for the next generation. Whilst several of the fathers were playing in the side, this was a day for the sons to take the limelight.
Similarly, Oxford had similar ideas. The average age of the Oxford 5's (which, during the season is predominently university students) was of a similar pedigree. This was furthe compounded by the longstanding rivalries long ingrained in the memories of all involved. This was a battle for local pride - and whilst friendly in name, there is nothing more important than an early season victory against your local rivals!
Indeed, this proved to be the case. With an extra week of games under their belt, Oxford were first to break the impasse, with smooth play from the off, and effective capitalisation on the newly formed team (making use of the rule of three groups of five - or was it five groups of three - or was it two groups of seven? - or was it the rule of six?), scoring first in what was immediately clear was going to be a high scoring game, with a mix of youth and experience.
Hawks were looking like a team who had not gelled, and very quickly were sat 3-0 down, and with a few communications breakdowns were looking vulnerable on the counter attack.
However, a rifling break from 2019's player of the season and top goalscorer, Jeremy, seemed to calm nerves and break the run of play - even if it was quickly rebuffed by a further goal by the Oxford side.
Come half time, Hawks were 4-1 down and looking like this was going to be a rout.
An inspiring teamtalk by mess'rs Easterbrook Snr, and Gillers Snr saw the lights flicker, and the inner hockey players competitive edge rise to the fore. 4-1 down, this was going to be a walk in the park - all we had to do was believe...
And believe we did!
Whilst the scoreline was favourable to Oxford, this was by all accounts a very even game, and it was the age old tactical battle. As Hawks emerged for the second half, you could feel the excitement - even if the team still couldn't count, and the five groups still ended up playing the first five minutes with only ten players on the pitch!
An unfortunate injury meant that young Alex Sumser was sidelined for much of the game, and saw very little action.
As the half progressed, Hawks were able to show their potential - as the deficit was quickly on the decline. Strike after strike from Jeremy saw the scoreline dramatically equalled, much to the delight of the onlooking crowd (of which there was actually an audience - unheard of for a 6th XI!) - at four all, it appeared very much the tantilising derby was very much living up to expectation.
5-4 to Hawks. This was unstoppable! - this time a neatly finished execution by Easterbrook saw Hawks take the lead for the first time all afternoon, which was swiftly followed up by a final rifling shot by Jeremy to see 6-4 to the good.
A scoreline of 5 without reply in less than 20 minutes - this is what can happen when a side finds it's feet!
To round off the spectacle, whilst the scoreline appeared to switch very dramatically, the play was even throughout, and both sides were able to keep their heads. Oxford were able to pick up on the fact that a photo finish was still able to be achieved, and ever resentful of losing such an early advantage. Their constant determination and workmanlike attitude saw the scoreline back to 6-5, and saw the close out to the final whistle as a tense, but very enjoyable and fair affair.
Particular mentions go to all the juniors, making up well over half the team, and accounting for less than 20% of the total age on display - with save after save by young Theo in goal - demonstrating excellently how he was able to achieve 7's player of the season last year, and well and truly deserving his position in the team. Also of note was young Theo Baldock. The youngest of the Baldock clan, and unusually for the name, a solid defender - able to stand up to men twice his size and hold his own at the back.
Whilst the length, nature, and outcome of the season has plenty of question marks, the game clearly illustrated the strength of the next generation, and the fighting spirit of the team. It was such a pleasure to be back on the pitch, and able to get out the house, and enjoy playing hockey again.
Thanks to Dave Cooke and Oxford for umpiring; to those on the sidelines from both sides; and to Jan and the team in the cabin, to enable such a successful afternoon of hockey, and for showing that we can continue successfully, and emerge.
Next week sees Hawks play Newbury, in what promises to be a relishing warmup ahead of facing a Newbury side the following week in the league. For those of you around, it id the late slot - 4pm on the top pitch, and is a mouthwatering prospect - even if a few of the old guard will be absent. Bring on the season!