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Ipswich Witches 2017... the speedway team that never took to the track!

PUBLISHED: 17:00 02 November 2017 | UPDATED: 17:30 02 November 2017

The team that never was. Ipswich Witches 2017 on press day. But this team never rode together in one meeting! Back, left to right, Ritchie Hawkins (team manager), Kyle Newman, Rory Schlein, Danny King (captain), Nico Covatti, Cameron Heeps, Chris Louis (promoter). Kneeling at front, Connor Mountain and Danyon Hume. Picture: Steve Waller   www.stephenwaller.com

The team that never was. Ipswich Witches 2017 on press day. But this team never rode together in one meeting! Back, left to right, Ritchie Hawkins (team manager), Kyle Newman, Rory Schlein, Danny King (captain), Nico Covatti, Cameron Heeps, Chris Louis (promoter). Kneeling at front, Connor Mountain and Danyon Hume. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com

© Copyright Stephen Waller

It proved to be a season of excitement but ultimate heartache for Ipswich Witches and their fans. MIKE BACON takes a look – at the team that never was!

In the end – for Ipswich Witches and their fans – it wasn’t to be.

The hunt for team silverware ticks over into another year after a 2017 campaign that promised much, but delivered nothing in the trophy cabinet, and had more ups and downs than any rollercoaster you or I have ever been on.

Rightly, one of the pre-season favourites, the 2017 Witches looked the business as they lined up on press day – the Championship season ahead.

Led by British champion Danny King, Nico Covatti and Rory Schlein, three experienced international stars, the Suffolk side had young guns Cameron Heeps, Danyon Hume and Connor Mountain to show off their exciting youth, as well as Kyle Newman – a rider sought by many in the winter.

Kyle Newman (red helmet) and Jan Graversen crash in heat eight of the Ipswich v Sheffield Championship play-off final. Newman suffered some nasty falls for the Witches in 2017.    PICTURE STEVE WALLER     WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COM Kyle Newman (red helmet) and Jan Graversen crash in heat eight of the Ipswich v Sheffield Championship play-off final. Newman suffered some nasty falls for the Witches in 2017. PICTURE STEVE WALLER WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COM

All keep fit and surely the long wait for silverware at Foxhall would be over, what could possibly go wrong?

In the end, what could go right?

Incredibly the Witches 2017 named above and who appeared together on press day, never, ever actually rode together.

Incredible isn’t it?

Danny King watches from the pits after crashing out of the knock-out cup final at Foxhall, with the Witches set to claim the silverware. Danny King watches from the pits after crashing out of the knock-out cup final at Foxhall, with the Witches set to claim the silverware.

In fact, I’m not sure in all my years of reporting on speedway I’ve ever witnessed a team line-up face the media on press day, have all the photos and interviews done and then never take to the track together!

But this was Ipswich Witches 2017’s luck and it didn’t take long to manifest itself.

No sooner had Newman finished the photo-shoot in Ipswich, and driven back down the M3 to Puddletown, than he was crashing out of the Darcy Ward Farewell Meeting at Poole a couple of nights later in a meeting that was abandoned because of an unfit track!

It was the catalyst to an injury curse that went on and on throughout a troublesome season – promoter Chris Louis and team boss Ritchie Hawkins patching up their injury-hit side time and time again.

A few weeks later out crashed Nico Covatti – and this was a bad one, the popular Argentinian suffering a severe hand injury at Redcar that ended his 2017 season with the Witches – skin grafts required to fix the damage.

Hume soon followed, the young reserve thudding into the Poole track and out with a badly broken arm in an individual meeting on a well-prepared Wimborne Road circuit.

It was only May and, while Newman was back, Covatti and Hume were out for the season.

Replacements were flying into Foxhall at a rate of knots, before the Ipswich management settled on long-term replacements, Justin Sedgmen (for Covatti) and Nathan Greaves (for Hume).

Connor Mountain, left and Danyon Hume, young reserves for Witches. Hume's season ended early. Connor Mountain, left and Danyon Hume, young reserves for Witches. Hume's season ended early.

However, by the end of July and with Sedgmen struggling with a shoulder injury and not producing the scores he was brought in to get, the Witches looked to make changes, replacing him and Mountain.

But the Foxhall management made a huge error with the averages and after telling both riders they were not required, they had to eat humble pie and ask them to stay! It was a huge embarrassment for the club.

To be fair both riders did stay, but Sedgmen’s injury never improved and within in a few weeks he was out of the side for the rest of the season. With the transfer window shut, it was rider replacement all the way in now for the Witches.

Mountain battled on bravely, showing huge professionalism for one so young.

Nico Covatti leading Josh Grajczonek during heat five of the Ipswich v Sheffield  Championship meeting at Foxhall Stadium in March. Covatti suffered a season-long hand injury. Nico Covatti leading Josh Grajczonek during heat five of the Ipswich v Sheffield Championship meeting at Foxhall Stadium in March. Covatti suffered a season-long hand injury.

Despite all this, the Witches were doing well on-track.

With Hawkins and Louis working overtime to find the right guests to fit the ‘Witches spirit’ and with Schlein, especially, in super form, on and off the circuit, Ipswich solidified their top four play-off position.

All seemed to have settled down, before Heeps became the next injury victim, another rider hurting his shoulder, this time in a league clash with Peterborough at the end of August.

Still the Witches battled on.

Witches promoter Chris Louis talks with Rory Schlein during the Sheffield v Ipswich play-off final first leg.  Schlein suffered two late-season injuries. Witches promoter Chris Louis talks with Rory Schlein during the Sheffield v Ipswich play-off final first leg. Schlein suffered two late-season injuries.

After a Schlein-inspired two-legged win over Edinburgh in the Championship play-off semi-final, the Foxhall side headed to Sheffield for the Championship final, only to lose Mountain a week before, after he crashed while riding for Mildenhall Fen Tigers, thankfully Heeps did return.

A 16-pt first leg defeat at Owlerton saw the Suffolk side with a lot to do and it proved too much.

There was hope of knock-out cup joy still on the horizon however. But just as the Witches looked forward to that, Schlein crashed in the Championship Pairs at Sheffield.

He was out of the cup semi-final, again against Sheffield, but the Witches continued to show their extraordinary powers of resilience as they saw off the Tigers over two legs and headed into the final.

Cameron Heeps, missed meetings after a crash at home to Peterborough. Cameron Heeps, missed meetings after a crash at home to Peterborough.

Peterborough awaited, but Schlein’s return from injury lasted no more than one race, as he crashed out of the first leg at Alwalton.

Black cats and ladders were now banned words in the Ipswich side of the pits.

The Witches lost by just four points at Peterborough as they rallied superbly.

In the return at Foxhall in front of a huge crowd, and with the aggregate scores all level and 10 heats still to go, at last the Witches looked set for silverware.

But the injury curse struck for one final, cruel time and in the last meeting of the 2017 campaign for the Witches, as skipper King, who had avoided any injuries in 2017, was hit by team-mate Greaves and suffered a fractured wrist.

Without him, the Witches couldn’t see it through, losing the cup in a last-heat decider, much to the heartache of the management and fans.

A season that provided so much excitement and promise, ended up with Ipswich having nowt to show for their brave efforts.

I’ve been asked a lot recently was this the best Witches team never to win anything?

I’m not sure about that. There have been many fine Witches teams who haven’t won a dot.

However, without any question, the class of 2017 have, by some distance, been the unluckiest Witches team for many, many a long year – possibly even ever.

No trophies, no silverware, but a shedload of memories and a team for the fans to be proud of.

What a ride.

Roll on 2018.

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