MACCLESFIELD’S GREATEST GAMES PART II
By David Wilkinson
Sale v Macclesfield, Tetley Bitter Cheshire Cup Final 1992
The Captain of Macclesfield in 1992 was Matt Harding; he remembers the whole tournament in detail: “It started with an away fixture at Shell Stanlow; we made it a bit of a ‘coach trip’ with a mixed 1st and 2nd team but the next fixture was serious with an away trip up to Cockermouth in the league. I got a call from Coach Clive Kershaw in the week, he said, have you heard Dave Cusani has signed for us. Well he came into the side in the second round against Chester which we won 22 – 13”. Matt went on to say that Cusani’s impact was everywhere, both on and off the field, bringing belief in the players’ ability and a dynamic way of playing the game, which he had gained from his years with then topside Orrell and England. “We now had real momentum topping the league and doing well in the cup; a young Rob Oliver came into the side at 10, and we were into the quarter Final against Oldershaw, who we beat 43-6. Simon Bernard then joined, in time for a double-header against Wirral, first the cup on the Sunday winning 20 points to 12, in which Bolty (Simon Bernard) got his jaw broken (reportedly by Van de Swan, off the ball); followed by the league match on Saturday which we won 22-3.”
Macclesfield had secured their place in the final of the Cheshire Cup, and hearing that Sale had also won their semi-final realised that they would now play in the prestigious Pilkington Cup the following season, whatever the result in the final. Matt recalls that on the day of the final they started by having breakfast at the Belgrade Hotel: “No one thought that we could beat Sale, so we decided to make a day of it, relax, watch some videos; then, when we got to Wilmslow (where the game was to be held) rather than go into the Clubhouse we went for a walk down by the Park. Once we were in the changing rooms it all went quiet, everyone was lost in their own thoughts, thinking about the enormity of what we were about to face. I went to the referee’s changing room to toss a coin and the Sale Skipper, Phil Stansfield, was already there, and very chatty with the Ref; he said to me “nervous”, I said yes, we all are, he said “you won’t win”, I said we’ll see; well I got back into our changing room and said to the lads: look they’re very cocky, they think they can just steam-roller us. I told them that we were all up for it, to give 110%, we would make mistakes, but it was there for the taking.”
Matt recounted that for the first twenty minutes, they couldn’t get out of their half and that the Sale Right Wing, Jeff Powell, was causing all sorts of problems; so much so, that their defence had to double-up on him. But that Macc defended well, weathered the storm and the first visit into the Sale half resulted in a penalty for Rob Oliver, and this pattern was to be repeated. Whilst Sale had the potent running of Jim Mallinder and Jeff Powell, and the deft play of Phil Gee, it was more than matched by Macclesfield’s determined defence. Sale did eventually cross the Macc line after a good break by New Zealander, Karl Hansen, but their lead was short-lived as Rob Oliver slotted another penalty to take Macc to the break with a six, four lead.
Matt recalls: “Second half, and you could see that Sale was starting to lose it, arguing amongst themselves, then Stansfield hit Justin Thomas and broke his nose, and there was an enormous fight”. Sale had no answer for the Macclesfield forwards; David Allaby wrote at the time that through Macc’s pack, the hugely influential Cusani in the lineout and the back row of Dave Worthington, Paul (Click) Clarke and Mark Droy Macclesfield steadily squeezed the life out of Sale. On the 51st minute Scrum Half Rick Usher latched on to the back of another driving maul by Macc to force himself over the line to score, Oliver converted. A kick and chase by Iain Taylor resulted in a penalty and though Oliver failed to convert, it would not be long before the final nail was hammered into Sale’s coffin. Sale had won a lineout deep into their own territory, but there was no way through skipper Matt Harding and Dave Cusani. Inevitably Macclesfield turned the ball over in the resulting maul, and Dave Worthington powered over for their second try, converted by Oliver with another penalty to round things off 21 – 4.
Macclesfield was jubilant and Sale disconsolate, with the Sale Captain distraught and on his knees at the final whistle. David Allaby wrote: ‘The National Two division club who had never lost a Cheshire Cup-tie were powerless to prevent Macclesfield’s first final appearance ending in this most astonishing of upsets’. Matt says that the result was so unexpected that there was nothing really laid-on at Wilmslow and the Sale guys were quick to disappear: “So things were quickly arranged for something back at the Club; and when we got back, it was heaving – what a brilliant night!”
It was the start of much success for the Club; looking back, Matt asked Dave Worthington who he thought were the most influential players at that time, as there were a few to choose from. But they were both in agreement that Dave Cusani had brought self-belief to the players, real inner confidence and ruggedness, plus his own physical prowess and skill on the pitch. Cusani wasn’t a one-man-team at Macc, but he was one man that made a team at Macc.