THORNHILL Trojans mark the high point of their return as a force in amateur rugby league when they meet Hunslet Old Boys in the Hamuel Reichenbacher Yorkshire Cup final at Wakefield Trinity on Tuesday (2pm), writes Trevor Watson.
Thornhill expect to take several hundred supporters to the game as they and the Old Boys seek to win the county trophy for the first time in their history.
It’s an exceptional turn-around for the Overthorpe club which less than two seasons ago was in serious trouble on and off the field.
They had to quit the Conference League and re-build in Pennine Division Three, in reality the fifth division. Equally worrying was the fact the Trojans were struggling to meet the overheads at their headquarters, the Thornhill Sports and Community Centre.
It was quite a comedown for a club with memories of Challenge Cup triumphs over professional teams, Sheffield and Workington, and competing in the Conference Grand Final.
But that prodigious worker, secretary Andrew Byram, and long-serving players such as Anthony Broadhead, a former BARLA Player of the Year, and Liam Morley, worked hard to stem the tide.
James Ratcliffe, who became coach in 2002 and had a highly-succesful period before moving into the professional game with Dewsbury Rams and York, has returned to Overthorpe Park and is delighted with the change in fortunes.
He said: “Thornhill is again a happy place. Our success on the field is reflected at the Community Centre, it’s really vibrant. We had a children’s party there on Sunday and it was heaving all night.
“I saw some awful defeats, including the game at Thatto Heath when they lost 102-4. Wayne Loney, who was coach, asked me to help out. I said I could only do one night a week. Wayne has a young family and couldn’t put the time in so I took over again.
“One problem was that people were just turning up for matches without training. I know they are only amateurs but there has to be a proper system.
“My sons Joss and Jake have stuck with the club and I challenged the youngest, Jake, to raise £6,000 for the club.
“He knocked on doors, made calls and raised £4,500. We all obtained sponsorships and now the lads have playing and training gear that a professional team would be proud of. We have 52 players signed on and the A team is going well under Ian Rayner and Danny Fisher. Some players are too good for the A team but happy to play in it.
“If lads have been injured or been missing for a game or two, they have to return through the A team. Some don’t like it but that’s the rule and applies to everybody.”
The players will train on Boxing Day and there are no complaints. Ratcliffe remarked: “What they do over Christmas is up to them but I don’t think they’ll let themselves down. I’ve told them this could be the biggest game in their amateur careers and they can enjoy themselves after the final.
“Supporters are returning in droves, we took three coachloads to meet Queens in the semi-final and we’ll probably have six at Wakefield.”
The Trojans beat holders Queens 31-30 after extra-time in a breathtaking game with Morley landing the vital drop-goal.
Ratcliffe said: “It was an amazing game. At the start of the second half of extra-time the lads looked absolutely spent. I said ‘Have a look at the folk behind the posts supporting you and tell them you’ve gone.’ We got level and then Liam won it.
“If you work through the bad times, you can enjoy the good. Let’s hope this is just the start of a great new era.”
Thornhill are holding a reunion on Tuesday (7pm) for members of the 1995 Yorkshire Cup final team at the Sports and Community Centre.