HAMPSHIRE’S outgoing-captain Neil Dawson admits he has walked away from the post with something of a heavy heart.
Having led Hampshire Colts to three South East titles in a row between 2014 and 2016, Dawson admits to feeling disappointed over how his team performed at key moments during his two seasons in the hot seat after COVID wiped out his first in charge.
Dawson felt he had to choose between the county and his home club at North Hants when he was offered the men’s captaincy at the Fleet club for 2023, back in the autumn.
Neil said: “I was really torn about carrying on as county captain. I agreed to do a third year because COVID wiped out my first year – and I loved doing it, and didn’t really want to stop.
“But I am the sort of person who needs to be able to give 100 per cent to both jobs, and I was worried I would end up giving 50 per cent to each if I had tried to combine the two very time-consuming roles.
“That would not be fair for either the club or the county,” said the senior collections manager for Reading-based Novuna Business Finance.
Neil confessed his big regret was not winning the league, or getting to the English County Finals. He said: “For me we had a decent team camaradarie – we tried different things with our pre-season practices. Using the new excellent facilities at Stoneham was very good.
“But the reality is simply that we didn’t deliver. The players accept that,” he said ruefully.
“As far as the six-man goes, when you consider Hampshire won the South East Qualifier seven times between 2002 and 2017, not being able to reach the English Finals again is obviously disappointing.
“But we have still only won the English County Championship once in its history before 2017 going back to the 1920s,” said Dawson.
“When it comes to trying to win the toughest of all four of the English qualifiers, I do feel you can only pick your best team – and then it is up to the players as individuals to perform.”
Dawson’s Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Channel Islands team finished fifth and sixth out of the 11 counties that competed, respectively, in 2021 and 2022,
But his cause was not helped by the fact the event has been played out of sequence on the rota used for the previous 50 years, depriving him of a home tournament.
The six-man was last held at Stoneham in 2010 when Hampshire beat Essex by 19 shots to win the South East title! And having historically been played on really tough championship courses, the last two venues have been less penal, resulting in lower winning scores.
“In 2021, BB&O’s Walker Cup player Conor Gough shot 10-under in the second round to change the outcome,” Neil explained.
“We were right in the mix at lunch time at Bury St Edmond’s last summer, but a mistake here and there cost us in the second round. It is always just very fine margins.”
But events in 2020 were probably even more disappointing, after Hampshire took a four-man team up to Seacroft when England Golf planned to hold a modified English County Finals after the qualifiers were all cancelled because of COVID.
Neil explained: “We thought we were going to play a mixture of foursomes and singles strokeplay against every county that wanted to enter over the first two days, with the top four playing matchplay on the Sunday.
“We went up to Skegness a couple of weeks before it was due to be played. Seacroft is a links course – and the two rounds of foursomes would have played to our strengths.
“I really thought we were going to win that – it would have been a one-off, but I had such a good feeling about the place, and the practice rounds went so well. Hampshire always perform well by the sea.
“Then with just days to go, England Golf felt they could not risk everyone’s health by holding the finals. It was a big shame, but we understood at that stage of the pandemic before we had the vaccines, they could not risk it.
“But it will always be a case of what might have been,” Dawson added ruefully.
Cherry has time on his side says Neil
Dawson expects his successor Lawrence Cherry – who led Hampshire to victory in last year’s South East Colts League – to continue the transition to a younger squad.
Neil said: “Mid-amateur golf (over 35s) has been Hampshire’s strength over the last decade or more with Martin Young, Colin Roope, Mark Burgess, Ryan Henley, Matt Wilcox, Gavin O’Neill – and now Toby Burden – having been fixtures in the team.
“I said I would not be scared to play the youngsters coming through, and we have seen Jersey’s Jo Hacker, Stoneham’s James Freeman and Bramshaw’s Joe Buenfeld, all reach the county final during my captaincy.
“I have given league debuts to them all and both Joe’s played six-man along with Charlie Forster last summer – and Charlie reached the semi-finals in the English Amateur later that month.
“It’s clear there’s going to be more of a transitional phase for the county – Lawrence has got time on his side to blood more youngsters and get them up to speed, so hopefully it will now work out for the best.”
So will those disappointments mean Dawson will look back on his captaincy as having “unfinished business.”
Dawson smiled: “Who knows… hopefully I will get asked to be county captain again. I am sure I would love to do it again. It’s a great honour and a great job.
“We all want Hampshire to be No. 1 in the country, and I will be supporting the county as North Hants’ men’s captain this season for sure.”