We open this month with news of young Jack Prior’s exploits in Poland. His inclusion in the British men’s eight crew at the U23 European Championships was cause enough for celebration, but his gold-winning performance in the final was the biggest achievement to date of his fledgling career.
Jack rose up the ranks on the local stage, setting junior and senior records as he went. But moving to Oxford Brookes when he reached University age was always going to require a significant step up in both commitment and quality if he were to perform at the necessary level to compete in a far more demanding environment.
That he took such a big move in his stride is testament to both his ability and mentality.
After finishing first in qualifying on the Saturday, the Brits knew they were in with a good chance in Sunday’s final, but to win as comprehensively as they did bodes very well for this generational talent.
Casual fans may have been forgiven for not expecting much from Justin Hewitt and Sean Negrette at the PDC World Cup. The 19-year-olds are newcomers on the senior circuit and they were up against the most senior players in the competition – Singapore’s Paul Lim (67) and Harith Lim (52), who have more than six decades of combined experience and have previously reached the quarter finals of the competition.
However, anyone who has been keeping tabs on the pair at a junior level won’t have been too shocked when the youngsters took a 3-0 lead in their first round match. They represent a generation of talented youngsters who will almost certainly be turning heads in the years to come.
Unfortunately, they would fall just short this time, with the cool-headed Singaporeans coming back from 4-2 down to ultimately win 5-4.
Still, these first steps on what will hopefully be long and successful careers for the pair have shown they are certainly not out of their depth at this level.
Speaking of young talent, Tjay De Barr’s debut appearance for Wycombe Wanderers could hardly have gone better. A last minute equaliser after his late introduction to the game forced penalties in their second round League Cup tie against Stevenage. The 21-year-old then stepped up to slot home with the deciding spot kick, sending the League One side through to the next round, and a mouth-watering tie with Manchester City.
Tjay faces strong competition for places, but if his performances continue to match his ambition, a bright future awaits.
It never hurts that he gets to showcase his talents on the biggest stage when representing Gibraltar, and his penalty-taking prowess was again called upon during the international break when Gibraltar took on Latvia in their World Cup qualifier.
After falling behind early in the second half, Tjay drew Gibraltar level from 12 yards, making for a nerve-wracking finale, before Latvia pulled away with a tie, scoring twice in the last five minutes.
A few days later, Gibraltar hosted Turkey in the Victoria Stadium and the match played out in similarly frustrating fashion.
A very early, fantastic penalty save by Dayle Coleing kept Gibraltar in contention in the first half, and, as in Latvia, they went into the break all square at 0-0. However, some inspired choices on the part of the Turkish manager saw his three halftime substitutes score a goal each to put the tie beyond Gibraltar’s reach.
The final game of the last international break was without doubt their hardest on paper. Norway’s side features some giants of the game, none more than the 21-year-old juggernaut, Erling Haaland, who has made it a habit of tormenting defences while putting up mind-boggling numbers on his way. Keeping him at bay when Gibraltar first hosted Norway in March was an achievement in itself, despite the 3-0 loss – one that would prove impossible to replicate. Haaland scored a hattrick this time en route to a 5-1 victory, although Reece Styche’s consolation was one he will savour for a long time – a cheeky, high speed dink over the keeper that any striker would be proud of.
Gibraltar remain rooted to the bottom of group G, but hope springs eternal for Julio Ribas’s men, and they will believe they might still cause an upset somewhere along the way.
And finally, Lincoln Red Imps have embarked on a European adventure that marks a new chapter in their illustrious, 45 year history. The reigning league champions qualified for UEFA’s brand new club competition, the Conference League, which represents the third tier of European football – below the Champions League and Europa League.
Lincoln were drawn alongside FC Copenhagen, Slavan Bratislava and PAOK FC, with PAOK their opponents on match day one.
The hosts started brightly and had a goal disallowed 25 minutes in, but the Greek visitors grew into the game and Akpom put them a goal ahead on the cusp of half time. They then stepped up a gear after the break, cutting through Lincoln’s defence repeatedly, before Mitrita’s acrobatic effort put PAOK 2-0 up before the hour mark.
Mr Reliable, Joseph Chipolina, came millimetres away from a consolation as his ferocious, injury-time strike ricocheted off the underside of the bar, but it was not to be.
2-0 the final score, but plenty for the Red Imps to build on!