North Ayrshire sealed their promotion back into the ‘champions league’ of swimming in the west of Scotland claiming a place in the Clyde Coast Mini League final next month, writes Rob Waller.
The achievement was all the more impressive because fixture congestion forced the team to swim the two remaining ties of the group stages over the same weekend, with added spice coming from ‘derby match’ draws against neighbouring clubs from Inverclyde and Kilmarnock.
A strong second-place finish behind Inverclyde on the Saturday (beating Kintyre and Rutherglen) was followed up with a nail-biting victory over Milngavie & Bearsden, Kilmarnock and Dumfries at the Galleon Centre on Sunday.
Their two wins and a second place in the group stage guarantee North Ayrshire a top six finish and a place in the A final at the Citadel in Ayr in June, although their ultimate position in the league table will have to wait until the last of the Round 3 ties have been swum.
“I’m delighted, it was a fantastic result!” says junior coach Alan Dickson, who saw his team drop just 2 points from a maximum possible 15 over the campaign.
“To be honest I always thought we had a chance of sneaking first, but I knew it was going to be close between us and Milngavie and Bearsden and I’m so pleased that me managed to see it out. There were a few nail-biting moments towards the end!”
Milngavie & Bearsden were ahead by 10 points at the halfway stage but the North Ayrshire squad, who were swimming for the second afternoon in a row, dug deep in the relays to edge ahead.
The final total put North Ayrshire 7 points clear on 154 points to M&B’s 147 with the other teams around 50 points behind.
Swimmers from the Largs area made up a quarter of the squad with 11 year old Isla Waller, in her final year as a Mini League swimmer, winning a maximum haul of points for the team in the crucial final round, taking victories in her fly and breaststroke races and contributing to three relay triumphs.
Kouper Sloss, and Cameron Hamill were among the youngest swimmers in the competition and were joined by Daniel Convery making up the Largs contingent.
Breaststroke ace Sarah Short from Fairlie grabbed a heap of points while Emma Binnie from Skelmorlie and Angus Wark from West Kilbride contributed to the winning total in their individual and relay swims.
“All the girls swam exceptionally well,” says Alan. “And the boys did the best they could, but we don’t have the depth in their side of the squad. For example, in the 11 year olds relay we had 3 10 year olds swimming and that’s what we’re up against, but I couldn’t have asked for any more from them.”
Going into the meet no one could be sure whether or not this rare double headed tie would affect North Ayrshire’s chances, but Alan believes they turned it to their advantage.
“The younger girls fed off the success of the older girls and you could see some of them really stepping up and getting the idea of racing hard and I can put that down to them taking inspiration from the girls who swam so hard on Saturday. So, in the end I think having the two rounds back-to-back has done us a favour.”
“Making the A final was the aim at the start of the campaign and we’ll see how high up we can finish on the day at the Citadel. There’s lots of work to do still.
“And looking ahead at next year you can see there are plenty coming up through the age groups so hopefully this is not going to be a flash in the pan and other clubs will definitely have noticed that there’s progress being made at North Ayrshire!”