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At the end of what has been fairly deemed a successful season, one in which they not only finished fifth in the RFU Championship league but also for a second year running made it to the semi-final stage of the Championship Cup, the Cornish Pirates held what proved an emotional Dinner & Awards Evening at the Penventon Hotel, Redruth, on Sunday evening.
The MC for the evening, Phil Westren, firstly welcomed ‘One & All’ present and, at the meal’s end, bestowed deserved words of praise to various personnel and to award winners. He commended the coaches and the players, CEO Rebecca Thomas, plus backroom staff – and Dicky Evans, chairman Paul Durkin and the Board, the ground staff, volunteers, and others who provide tremendous input. Due thanks were also expressed to all club sponsors for their much-appreciated support.
To the coaches and players especially, he said again ‘well done’. With the number of changes in the squad at the start of the season, to finish fifth in the table was so very commendable – achieved through hard work, belief, and by maintaining a focus to develop and keep improving, with the high level of team spirit that evolved also fantastic – and not forgetting the effort to get close to upsetting Jersey Reds in the semi-final of the Cup. Phil felt all should feel immensely proud. He also congratulated Jarrard Hayler who, at Twickenham last Saturday led the Navy to a 39-22 victory against the Army. Jarrard also scored the final try of the match which saw his side win the Babcock Trophy for the first time since 2016.
Before the main awards were presented, CEO Rebecca Thomas thanked certain personnel who were stepping down from their roles, namely physiotherapist Andrew Highton, head groundsman Peter Joyce, strength & conditioning coach James Owen, and analyst placement Louis Harling.
Joint head coach Alan Paver was next to command attention, when he spoke with sincere appreciation reference the recently announced named players who were leaving the club. Always a sad time, the list comprised backrowers Jarrard Hayler, Seb Nagle-Taylor and Bear Williams, prop Hayden King, fly-half Harry Bazalgette, scrum-half Tom Kessell, centres Rory Parata, Shae Tucker and Garyn Smith, full-back/wing AJ Cant, wing Robin Wedlake, and full-back Carwyn Penny.
It was inevitably emotional for some, as it was lastly for former gifted player Matt Evans who in recent years has been team manager. Joint head coach Gavin Cattle spoke highly of Matt who has decided to step down from his role to become a fulltime employee with the Cornwall Fire & Rescue Service.
The presentations of various main club awards were next made, as follows:
Community Player of the Year – The club’s Community Engagement Manager, Sam Teasdale, was invited to present this award which went to
someone who has throughout the year once again been a magnificent contributor. Always helpful, the winner for second year running was – Bear Williams.
The next awards were presented in turn by joint head coaches Alan Paver and Gavin Cattle.
Sportsman of the Year – To be considered a good sportsman is something to be very much proud of, and this year’s winner was again very worthy. He has displayed these traits in his two seasons with the Pirates, during which he has made his mark in making 38 appearances – also making the Championship ‘Team of the Week’ on several occasions. Congratulations were expressed to – Will Gibson.
Most Improved Player – There have clearly been several good candidates,
with the person chosen someone very worthy. In his first season with the Pirates his development has been clear to see, as someone possessing skill, pace, and admirable determination. A proud young Cornishman, the winner was – Will Trewin.
Monckton Cup for Achievement – Presented in memory of late stalwarts Bill and Brian Monckton, a father/son combination who both played for the Pirates and became senior officers, the trophy was last year shared by the Cornish Pirates & Pirates Amateurs for each having gone unbeaten at home in the 2021/22 league season. As for this year, it was again shared, between two players who during the season had reached and passed the 150 games mark for the club. Congratulations were expressed to – Tom Kessell & Marlen Walker.
Try of the Season – Firstly, thanks were expressed to analyst Ed Hounsell for setting up the try footage and to Ross Hancock for organising the voting system for supporters to cast their votes in advance of the night. The ultimate winner was Robin Wedlake for his memorable try scored in the match away to Ealing Trailfinders in March. Another try from Robin, scored at home against Ampthill in October was chosen in second place, and in third position was a try scored AJ Cant away to London Scottish in March.
Player of the Year – As for 2023, this player had a fine season, it his first in Pirates’ colours. Featuring in 26 games, 24 of which were starts, the combative back row forward performed throughout at a consistently high level, and always gave his all. The winner was – Alex Everett.
Players’ ‘Player of the Year’ – On behalf of the players, club captain John Stevens, who himself enjoyed an outstanding season, was called forward to present this special award. Special indeed, as to receive such a trophy confirms a mark of respect and admiration felt by the recipient’s fellow players. The 2023 winner, who made his debut for the Cornish Pirates against Exeter Chiefs in a pre-season match played at Sandy Park in 2017, since then made 85 appearances for the club and has been in outstanding form this past season as a fullback/wing who has pace, a wiry strength, and is sharply elusive. The winner was – AJ Cant.
To conclude the evening’s programme of events, there was a Raffle, a Photobooth opportunity, and then a Disco.