By Mo Sher -follow Mo @MSSher1
Both sides won plenty of plaudits in this thoroughly entertaining final day clash at Molesey Road, with Esher full-back Charlie Walker dancing over for a wonderful hat-trick to lead Esher to a 33-24 triumph.
The best-received score of the afternoon, though, was certainly that of Jonny Hylton’s, the winger playing his last game in Esher colours. His try, coming hot on the heels of Tom Cheeseman’s early strike, had put the hosts into a commanding 12-0 need within minutes, and players and supporters alike united as one to show their appreciation to a real clubman.
Both tries involved the lively Patrick O’Grady, always slithering and sniping, as well as Cheeseman. The Welsh centre was in the mood before having to go off, less than a quarter of the way in, with a suspected pectoral muscle problem. He has agreed terms for next year, however, and his wily leadership skills will be much called for.
The quite brilliant Charlie Walker poached a third for Esher before Fylde had seemingly even had time to blink, wriggling out of what for all the world seemed a cul-de-sac laden with heavy traffic. The visitors, led by marauding captain Evan Stewart, were shell-shocked and despite enjoying a lot of possession, were blighted by a plethora of unforced errors.
Fylde enjoyed a real purple patch in the five minutes before half-time, subjecting the Esher line to a barrage of repeated attacks but, as with the Richmond game last week, the men in black, led by 100-caps man James Campbell, held firm, heading into the break 19-0 to the good.
Mark Nelson’s charges were caught with another body blow almost immediately from the off, ultimately putting the home team out of sight.
Hylton showed all the class that has taken him right to the top of the game, scorching past Stewart in midfield and with Walker and Andy Wright for company, opted to pick out the 19-year-old flyer. Even the hail storm that had engulfed Hersham could not stop the crowd purring; Esher were at their best and it seemed nothing could stop them.
Not quite. Fylde threw caution to the wind and, after a few near misses, their fluid, often off-the-cuff style, began to click.
Ryan de la Harpe dived over for the first after Chris Johnson’s nudge behind the Esher defence was gathered by the rapid Ollie Brennand, kept alive well, before being swept inside for the scrum-half to open his side’s account.
They didn’t have to wait long for a second. The Fylde speed at the break down was stinging Esher and the attacks began to build. Despite all the prowess out wide, it was prop Peter Altham who showed great agility to touch down for the second try, neatly swivelling over from close to the line to register. Johnson hit the extras and the pendulum had certainly swung toward the side from the Woodlands.
When the quite superb Stewart thundered over for Fylde’s third try just after the hour mark, again instigated by the quietly efficient Johnson, the lead stood at just 5 points, Esher leading 26-21.
Boss Nelson, quite rightly, directed Johnson to take the three points on offer moments later, when it seemed the senior players were looking to hit the corner. At 26-24, it seemed the fairytale finale for Esher’s seven leavers was to be a figment of the imagination.
There was an outpouring of emotion, then, when Walker’s third, minutes from the end, confirmed the win – certainly harsh on Fylde, who played a very full part in a thoroughly entertaining affair, but who couldn’t quite contain the magic of Walker.
Boss Ollie Smith, completing his first full season in the hot seat, was pleased to end the year with a win.
“It’s been a tough season and we’ve learnt a hell of a lot. To finish on a high, though, was something that we wanted to do, not just for ourselves, but also for the supporters, who have been magnificent,” he said.
“From losing at Fylde on the opening day, we’ve developed and grown. Even though there have been a few disappointing dips, it’s generally been a pretty satisfactory season.
“The amount of young players that have played will only stand us in good stead for next year and if we can get a few bodies in, we’ll be in a strong position to challenge at the top again.
“The hard work starts next week, with a lot of planning and discussions to be had with regards to our strategy, and everyone is already looking forward to September.
“It’s incredibly important that everyone has a couple of months to relax and refresh but what I can say is that we’ll come back in July raring to go, keen to build on what we have achieved over the course of the past eight months.”
Esher: Walker; Wright, Elder, Cheeseman, Hylton; Daniels, O’Grady; Millard, Campbell (c), Maguire; Inglis, Chesney; Synnott, Clifford, Macfarlane.
Replacements: Sweeney for Campbell (48), Mines for Maguire (78), Smart for Synnott (48), Garner for O’Grady (55), Cruickshanks for Cheeseman (16).
Fylde: Chris Briers; Spragg, Waywell, Barrow, Brennand; Johnson, de la Harpe; Birchall, Roddam, Altham; Arnold, Griffiths; Thompson, Stewart (c), Collins.
Replacements:Lavelle for Altham (55), Burtonwood for Roddam (75), Maher for Griffiths (72), Wallwork for Spragg (72), Viney for Barrow (63).
Ref: Mr. Shane Lewis