A decade of unforgettable sporting memories

Paralympian Jacob Thomas

Paralympian Jacob Thomas:

The 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics provided some memorable moments – not least for one boy from Bethesda.

Shortly after birth Jacob Thomas was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, but that wasn’t going to stop him achieving his dreams.

And sure enough, said dreams came true when aged 17, he was picked in the Team GB boccia squad to compete against the elite. It was the first time the sport had been played at the Paralympics and accompanied by dad Michael, as he was every competition, Jacob became one of nine British players to help make history.

Mum Caroline and sister Polly watched on as he competed in the team and individual competitions, and poignantly he came up against his hero in Greek star Grigorios Polychronidis.

There may not have been any medals in London and the nature of Jacob’s condition meant a short window for his sporting career, but he retired in 2016 with he and his family able to reflect on a few days in London they would never, ever forget.

BC: It is no cliché to say that being there remains one of my most memorable sporting moments alongside watching Federer at Wimbledon, and it was made special by such an amazing sporting venue and watching with his mum Caroline and sister Polly, both old friends. Jacob was a brilliant tactician and dad Mike did a great job as his ramp loader. Staying at a posh residence on the bank of the River Thames, loaned to us from a lovely lady from our county wasn’t bad either!

FW: I remember watching Jacob in London and feeling humbled by it all. Him and his family had been through more than most of us could imagine, and yet here he was fulfilling his ultimate ambition with them right by his side. It was the culmination of so much hard work and strength in adversity.

GT: It was a humbling experience meeting Jacob’s parents before he took to the stage in London. I was so proud watching him compete for Team GB, it was an exceptional time that will live with me for the rest of my days.

Dale Evans Prizefighter finalist

A prize night on Sky for Dale:

There’s been no shortage of Pembrokeshire boxing success stories in these past 10 years.

Charlene Jones and Mickey McDonagh competed in the 2014 and 2018 Commonwealth Games respectively, the latter winning silver, and at this present time big things are expected of a host of young prospects.

But it was back in January 2013 when Sky Sports showcased the career of one local fighter like never before.

Aged 21 and cornered by Graham Brockway, the then Merlins Bridge ABC boxer qualified for the Prizefighter competition in Wolverhampton. The televised event was designed to unearth future professional stars of the sport.

Evans had beaten Sam Eggington in his quarter final before taking a 29-28 verdict against pre-tournament favourite Mark Thompson, setting up a final with Sunderland’s Glenn Foot.

Both had gone into the night with unbeaten records and sure enough, a thrilling final followed. Evans lost a bout many felt he’d won on a split decision but despite the disappointment, the night proved a springboard for his boxing career.

That career ended with retirement in early 2018 but Evans can still look back at his time at the top with pride. And that night in Wolves will be right up among the memories.

GT: It was the night that the boxing fraternity stood up and took notice of Dale Evans. He boxed brilliantly throughout the tournament and he can count himself unlucky he wasn’t crowned Prizefighter after agonizingly not getting the verdict I think he richly deserved.

FW: I genuinely thought he’d won that final. It was mixed emotions for him because he had the unbelievable high of winning twice on live television but to come so close in the final must have been a sickener.

BC: I thought he might have sneaked the verdict as well but typical of professional boxing it wasn’t to be. Dale was a real battler and he showed what he could do in that fight – and at the bell Glenn looked like he thought he’d lost it too. Dale was always modest about his part in a tough sport and was also a credit to the county!

Fishguard RFC play final in Cardiff

Seagulls swarm to Cardiff:

‘If there had been bomb dropped in Fishguard that day no one would have died.’

Fair to say Cardiff RFC coach Martyn Fowler was impressed by the turnout when the Seagulls came to Cardiff one memorable day in May 2013.

Indeed, buses upon buses of people docked in blue white descended on the capital as Fishguard and Goodwick RFC became the first ever Pembrokeshire side to play at the Millennium Stadium (it was still called that in those days). The occasion was the WRU Bowl final and the opponents were Wattstown.

The game was live on S4C and there was memorable start as James Griffiths scored a superb solo try to help his side into a 10-3 lead. Unfortunately, the physicality of the Rhondda based side eventually proved too much and they would come back to win 27-17.

The occasion still went down in Fishguard folklore though and the clubhouse afterwards resembled a cattle market as players and supporters old and new packed in. Cardiff themselves agreed to come down to The Moors for a pre-season friendly three months later with Fowler adding ‘great support should be reciprocated’.

In 2018 Pembroke would follow suit as they lost a thrilling Bowl final with Porthcawl at the same venue, by then renamed the Principality. Like Fishguard, they’d agree the long away trips in earlier rounds were worth it.

GT: I remember driving with Bill Carne to Cardiff that day to watch the Seagulls. We pulled up at the traffic lights in the city and I caught eye of a familiar face next to me. I wound down the window and asked, ‘Any chance of getting us in the Millennium Stadium?’. The person in the car replied, ‘follow me’ and we ended up with first class parking at the stadium. It was former ‘Western Telegraph’ old boy Geoff Williams, now Head of BBC Wales sport.

BC: Gordon and I went to Cardiff very early and there was a surreal moment when, stewards apart, there was an eerie silence as we were the first to take our seats. Outside we had seen an amazing wave of blue and white flags and met loads of people we knew who had brought their families. There was euphoria when James Griffiths scored in our corner but Wattstown were too street-wise for The Seagulls – and had some rough supporters too!

FW: I had game with Whitland that day against Bargoed, and we were all out late for the warm up because we were watching Fishguard on a TV in the pitch side bar. The coaches came in to give us a rollocking and then James scored – and they suddenly fell silent and started watching too.

Tigers roar to West Wales Cup glory


Tigers bite back from the dead:

Back in 2012/13, a Pembrokeshire side appearing in a West Wales Intermediate Cup final was something of a rarity.

Not since Hakin United’s win over Brynawel at The Vetch (2004) had one of our teams graced that coveted stage, and none had done so since the Liberty Stadium had hosted the occasion.

But that all changed in May 2013 with a final so surreal the script may as well have been borrowed from Roy of the Rovers.

Unfancied Johnston had got on a roll that season and having already won the Senior Cup, then equalised in the last seconds of extra time against Morriston Olympic in the semi-final before winning on penalties. You sensed then it was a case of name on the trophy, and so it proved.

It didn’t look that way mind when deep into the second half of the final, they trailed 2-0 before Joe John pulled one back. Then with just seconds left, Steve Mills went clean through and levelled matters – but injured himself while doing so and was duly carried off on a stretcher.

However, with The Tigers set to play extra time with only 10 men, Mills rose from the dead. Not only did he reappear from the changing room and trot back onto the field of play, he proceeded to score a brilliant winner in the final period of extra time.

The glory wasn’t to last for Johnston. The following season they were infamously thrown out the competition and the club have since dropped out the top-flight of the Pembrokeshire League.

But no one can take that frenzied night in Swansea away from them.

FW: Had I played for Penlan that night I don’t think I’d have slept properly for a year afterwards - Johnston looked dead and buried at half time but they refused to die. It has always stuck with me that at 2-1 down Kanga (Andrew John) cleared away a header that looked over the line. It wasn’t given and what then followed was unbelievable.

GT: An incredible night, it was real Roy of the Rovers stuff from Johnston at the Liberty Stadium, especially as Steve Mills jnr bagged the dramatic winner. What a night for the Tigers, who were purring with delight.

BC: Mills scored a goal that had pure class written all over it and the Pembrokeshire contingent went wild and finally drowned out the vociferous Penlan crowd. Moments like these are hard to come by for local sport and it is nice we could all say, “I was there!”

Patrick Bellerby hits last ball six

Bellerby’s six appeal:

There have been some fantastic Pembrokeshire cricket finals this past decade.

The Harrison-Allen Bowl finals in 2015 and 2016 in particular spring to mind, both thrillers that went down to the wire. There was no shortage of drama this year either.

We’ve also had some nail biting title races decided on the final day.

But in terms of a memorable finish, nothing comes close to the 2014 DR Morris Cup final between Neyland and Haverfordwest - and that final ball six to win it from Patrick Bellerby.

At the time the two sides were at the height of what had turned into an intense rivalry, and The Town seemed set to win the latest instalment.

They led by 49 at tea in Burton before setting Neyland an unlikely 181 to win.

A frenetic run chase followed with dropped catches and Ashley Sutton surviving a huge run out shout during a sparkling knock of 97 - but when off the penultimate ball Dai Davies took a catch to remove Scott Jones, it looked all over.

That was unless Bellerby, on 27 not out, could a crack a maximum off the very last ball. Nothing less would do.

Sure enough, a perfectly timed straight hit off Josh Wilment did the job as the ball sailed over the Oatfield Park boundary to spark bedlam amongst Neyland players and supporters.

They went on to add the league title while The Town did recover that season to claim the Bowl, but for contrasting reasons, no one involved will have forgotten that Duggie Morris final.

FW: I was trying to tweet that final over. It was bedlam.

BC: As an alleged Haverfordwest supporter I have been teased about that one shot more than enough but I can still see it flying towards the road-end hedge at Oatfield Park – and the look of sheer anguish on the Haverfordwest players as the Neyland team and supporters swarmed on the pitch. Paddy (Bellerby) took it as calmly as he always does! He’s still a cool dude!

GT: As finals go, this must be the most dramatic finish that I’ve ever witnessed locally. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, and Bellerby hits a big six on the final delivery to win it for Neyland. Wow!

Jaz Joyce excels for Team GB 7s at Rio Olympics

Jasmine rejoices in Rio:

First touch, first try,

The Team GB Women’s 7s team that kicked off at the Rio Olympics had some familiar names. After all, England had won the World Cup two years previously and the squad in Brazil was made up from their elite pool of professional players.

Except for one.

When former Ysgol Dewi Sant pupil Jasmine Joyce jogged on as a second half replacement for GB’s opening match against the hosts, few outside of this county would have recognised the name. A few seconds later, she was over the try line having shown searing pace to outstrip the cover defence from 40 metres - and a star was born.

The tournament would end with an agonising Bronze medal match defeat but for Joyce, then only 20, it has been the springboard for full international honours, appearances in the Six Nations and World Cup, and a 7s stint in Australia.

She’ll be bang in the frame for Tokyo 2020 Olympics and if she takes to the field in the opening game, this time there’ll be few who won’t recognise the name.

GT: What a player, Jazz Joyce played superbly for the GB Women’s 7s team scoring some cracking tries at the Rio Olympics - her electric pace stood out and it opened the doors for her to be picked for Wales Women in the 15-aside code. And as they say the rest is history…

FW: She did so well to stay grounded and focused after Rio. Things exploded for her when she came back and she couldn’t walk 10 yards in St Davids without being stopped and congratulated.

BC: As a star in her sport Jazz remained as a modest St Davids girl and when I contacted her about a chat for radio soon afterwards she was so accommodating and remained that way whenever I caught up with her afterwards. Fraser was almost star-struck that a St Davids girl could go to that level – and he was right!

Bruce Tasker belatedly became fist person from Pembrokeshire to win a Winter Olympic medal

Tasker takes bronze at last:

Simply put, Pembrokeshire isn’t associated with winter Olympic sports.

Yes if you went to primary school around here you probably had a bash at the dry ski slope in Llangrannog, and you may have heard of Eddie ‘the Eagle’ - but competing on snow and ice has been a distant concept in these parts.

Which made watching former Greenhill pupil Bruce Tasker form part of the Team GB four man bobsleigh team in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi all the more surreal.

Tasker joined Stuart Benson, Joel Fearon, and John James in a commendable fifth placed finish, that was later upgraded to third following the disqualification of two Russian crews.

The only regret for Tasker and co was their moment of joy was stretched out over five years of investigations and appeals, but sure enough, last month they were finally presented with their coveted medals in London.

By then, former 400m runner Tasker was long retired after suffering a stroke in January 2018. He has since recovered and now stands as our county’s only ever Winter Olympic medallist - and it’s safe to say it will be a hell of a long time before we can boast another one.

GT: Bruce Tasker has deservedly been handed his bronze medal for his part he played in the Team GB four-man bobsleigh team in the 2014 Winter Olympics. The Russians had cheated so the former Tenby Greenhill pupil finally got his just reward as the first person from Pembrokeshire to win a winter Olympic medal.

FW: I spoke to him the day after the news of the Russian doping disqualifications broke and I thought he’d be angry at being denied the medal ceremony, the Olympic moment, and so on. But he wasn’t. He was content the team had performed to their best and the medal became a glorious bonus.

BC: What an achievement – there’s not much snow around Greenhill School to make an early start in his sport. He typified what real sport is about and I was thrilled that Russian cheating had been detected and he had the medal he and his team-mates deserved. What a flag-bearer for Pembrokeshire!

Ironman a huge success in Tenby

Ironman explodes in Tenby:

When it was announced that the 2011 Ironman Wales would be coming to Tenby, many were unsure what to make of it.

Further still, some had no idea what it was.

10,000 spectators and 1,500 athletes later, and the legacy of what is now one of the most iconic annual events in Pembrokeshire was underway.

North Beach was packed long before dawn for the 2.4 mile swim while supporters crammed at vantage points all over the county for the 112 mile cycle. And the marathon run prompted an electric atmosphere as athletes were roared around Tenby, with the din lasting long after the midnight cut off point. For the record, Frenchman Jeremy Jurkiewicz was the winner in nine hours and four minutes.

The way the event was embraced inspired many. Fast forward eight years, and Tenby is now one of the World’s most popular Ironman venues and the noise levels have become legendary. The clamour to be involved from athletes and residents alike grows every year and the tales of non-sporting types revamping their lifestyle to take part are endless.

In 2020 we’ll have the ten year anniversary. It’s going to be off the scale.

FW: It sounds a cliché, but every year when I go to Tenby I’m taken aback. The atmosphere is ridiculously good and the whole thing shows no signs of slowing down.

BC: I covered part of the second event with Ben Stone for local radio and was amazed at the range of countries from which competitors came – and it has grown significantly since then. I have also seen the cycling and running past huge crowds in the south of the county and, as Fraser says, it really is iconic. I still haven’t seen the swim because Fraser promises to give me a 4am call and then forgets but next year – who knows. As for ever wanting to compete – forget it because I’d have to leave that to the real tough cookies!

GT: Ironman is the biggest event ever to take place annually in Pembrokeshire. Every year it just gets bigger and bigger and athletes from all corners of the globe want to take part and that includes a lot of locals. I hope this continues for many years come as it puts Pembrokeshire as a top sporting venue on the world stage. It don't getting any better than that.

Title race down to the wire

Hakin and Goodwick’s head to head finale:

It was everything you wanted for a Division 1 title race. The top two teams in the county going head to head on the final night of the season with it all on the line.

In May 2016, it was Hakin and Goodwick United who did just that at The Obs in front of the biggest crowd seen for many a year at a Pembrokeshire Football League game.

The two sides had gone hammer and tongs at each other throughout the campaign and had already met four times in league and cup – but it was the Phoenix Boys who held the edge going in. They had already beaten The Vikings in the Senior Cup final and captured the West Wales Cup, they now needed just a draw to seal an historic treble.

And yet for 45 minutes they were battered. Nicky Woodrow put Hakin ahead, and it was only the heroics of away keeper James Gwilt that prevented further goals. Early in the second half tempers boiled over and Chris O’Sullivan was sent off but from there, Goodwick somehow rallied.

Kieran O’Brien’s deflected header 20 minutes from time wouldn’t have won many goal of the month contests, but after withstanding a barrage of late pressure, it proved enough for Nigel Delaney’s side to secure a first top flight title since 1993/94.

The post-match celebrations saw Goodwick captain Wayne O’Sullivan stand arms aloft in front of the slab as emotions spilled over and sure enough, the rivalry would continue with Hakin regaining their league crown the following season.

But on few occasions has a league football game in our county captivated the public as much as this one did.

FW: I got to The Obs about an hour before kick-off and the place was already filling up. There was a hell of a lot of tension in the air and then the Goodwick bus rocked up with ‘West Wales Cup winners’ written on the side which got a few people going! Hakin should have put it to bed in that first half really, but James Gwilt produced the performance of his that life that night and Goodwick hung in there.

BC: I once remonstrated with big Wayne, a colossus of a player for Goodwick, about his final show of antagonism because I thought winning the title was enough but when he told me what caused that outburst I could only shake his hand because stupid comments from one opposing so-called supporter to a Goodwick player were absolutely beyond the pale and did little justice to a top club like Hakin United!

GT: Will I ever see another titanic battle for the title like the one I witnessed at the Obs in 2016? Possibly not, but it was a remarkable result for Goodwick because Hakin looked as if they had the title in the bag until O’Brien’s second half equaliser changed everything.

Tobefair created a lot of euphoria at Cheltenham Races

A few pints lead to Cheltenham:

Pembrokeshire jockeys, trainers, and owners have had much to shout about these past 10 years.

But no tale has resonated with local people quite as much as the success of Tobefair.

Gifted as a colt to Michael Cole, he was unable to afford the running costs and therefore offered a share of his 50% stake to regulars at the Cresselly Arms pub in Cresswell Quay. A few months (and pints) later, and 16 pub syndicate members with no experience in racing were backing their horse at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival – and on the back of seven consecutive wins as well.

There was to be no fairy tale win with the horse, trained by Paul and Debbie Hamer, finishing safely in 22nd in the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle. But footage of the likes of Tim Parry and John Tennick meeting HRH Princess Anne and being interviewed on ITV was enough to halt work in offices all over the county - and prompted a fair old reaction on social media as well.

The horse has since progressed and the name is now well known on the national racing circuit, and a host of local people are benefitting.

All on the back of a few pints in the local.

FW: That Cheltenham build up was crazy. People I’d never known were interested in racing were telling me they were putting money on Tobefair. One guy came into work saying he’d asked his mum if she’d heard about the syndicate story and she answered ‘Yes I forgot to tell you – I’m in it.’

BC: Tim Parry and I still relive the moments when we bump into each other in Costas, Haverfordwest and his brother Charlie was also involved alongside that wily old Cole from Lawrenny! It was, and still is, a fairy story of the horse-racing kind!

GT: It created a lot of interest around the county, but on the day Tobefair was well beaten and came home safely. It was the bookies who were rubbing their hands with delight as they made some dosh as the local pundits were left with empty pockets.