2023 Review: Highs and lows of Jersey sport in past 12 months

2023 Review: Highs and lows of Jersey sport in past 12 months
Jersey sports fans will look back on 2023 with mixed feelings - photo credit Sue Armes

There were 152 days between what, for many Jersey sports fans, was the highest of all highs and the lowest of the lows. Just five months between Jersey Reds remarkably clinching the Championship title in a thrilling conclusion to the season, and Jersey Reds announcing they had ceased trading and were set to go into administration. 2023 was a defining year in the history of rugby in our island.

A nail-biting 19-13 win over title rivals Ealing on the penultimate weekend of the campaign had set the scene for the final day theatre. The Reds went into the last-day clash with Ampthill knowing a win of any kind would see them crowned champions of the second tier of English rugby.

On a memorable and emotional afternoon, with around 3,000 in attendance at St Peter, the Reds ran in seven tries on their way to a 43-15 victory. Pyrotechnics, a lap of the pitch and one hell of a party were to follow, as was the honour of an open top bus parade as part of Jersey's Liberation Day celebrations.

Championship champions! Jersey Reds win the league title
This was special. Really special. Like, right up there as one of the best sporting success stories Jersey has ever seen special. There were more than a few emotional teary eyes at St Peter, and there’ll certainly be more than a few sore heads tomorrow, after Jersey Reds lifted the

Just months later though, the club was gone. Having run into financial difficulties, they could find no way out. There one minute, gone the next.

Director of Rugby Harvey Biljon was understandably teary-eyed as the Reds' on-field success was recognised with an Outstanding Achievement award at the Jersey Sport and Move More Awards, in the year he should have been celebrating his 10-year testimonial at the club. Many will have an eye on what Harvey does next in 2024.

There'll also be plenty watching to see how far the amateur Jersey Rugby Club can go, on a similar path the Reds once trod, up through the divisions. Myles Landick's team sit top of Regional 2 South Central with 13 wins from 13 and a maximum 65 points from 65. They're already filling some of the void left by the abrupt ending of the Reds - now can they go the whole way and climb the rungs ahead of them...

The Island Games was, of course, another standout week in the 2023 sporting calendar, this year hosted by our friends across the water in Guernsey.

Archer Lucy O'Sullivan returned to the Games for the first time since the home event of 2015. She returned in style too, earning five golds during the week. Jersey's 126 medals in total placed them second in the table behind the hosts. In the pool, it was a stunning seven golds and two silvers for Isaac Dodds, while teammate Robbie Jones collected a brilliant 11 medals in all. Teenager Hannah Silcock won table-tennis gold, while Jo Hacker completely dominated the golf to triumph by a staggering nine shots.

One of the standout successes of the year was the Island Games gold for the men's football team. Led by interim manager Elliot Powell, Jersey had to battle back from falling behind twice in the first 20 minutes of the final to beat Ynys Mon 5-2, achieving men's football gold for the first time since 2009.

Skipper Libby Barnett scored from the spot against Aland - photo credit Scott Fusellier

Jersey's women's football team will remember the Games of 2023 less fondly. Despite an excellent group win over former champions Aland, they were eventually left relying on the toss of a coin to see if they progressed to the semis. It didn't land kindly for Chad Morris' side.

They had, at least, already tasted success on Guernsey soil just a couple of months earlier - winning the women's Muratti for the tenth occasion in a row, this time 4-1 thanks to goals from Eve Watson (2), Hannah Campbell and youngster Ella Docherty.

Muratti 2023: Eve Watson stars as Jersey’s women win again
Jersey celebrated a tenth consecutive Women’s Muratti triumph, with Eve Watson’s double helping them to a 4-1 win over rivals Guernsey at Footes Lane.

In the men's Muratti, it was one final hurrah for boss Martin Cassidy, as he bowed out as Jersey manager with a 2-1 win and a fourth Vase triumph in a row either side of the pandemic.

Will Fazakerley's header midway through the first half had put Guernsey in front at Footes Lane, but the hosts then went into their shell. Luke Campbell's penalty soon after the break pulled the visitors level before Campbell popped up again, this time at the far post, to net the winner. A dramatic Ross Allen equaliser deep into stoppage time was adjudged to have been offside, Guernsey supporters will still be talking about it for decades to come.

Cass had confirmed the previous month that he'd be stepping down after the game for family and work reasons. Elliot Powell, who (as mentioned above) took interim charge for the Island Games, had been alongside Cassidy in the dugout. In early April, Powell's St Peter side had won a first Premiership title in 17 years, ending up with a tally of 13 wins and a draw from their 14 league outings.

For Jersey Bulls, it was a third-placed finish in the 2022/23 season as their promotion push faded. Gary Freeman's side are enjoying the battle but will want to go one further this time around. They're well-placed to challenge again, currently in third spot, again, but this time with the prospect of end-of-season play-offs, if required.

Meanwhile, Rozel Rovers Women clinched the quadruple, adding the league trophy, the Colin Welsh Jersey Women's FA Cup and the Zany Labbe to the Le Couvent cabinet in 2023, following on from the Zenith Cup triumph from the start of the campaign.

Returning to rugby, and the Women's Siam Cup went Jersey's way after a particularly commanding first-half display featuring four unanswered tries. It set the foundations for a 31-5 win over the old rivals.

Jersey lift the women's Siam Cup
Captain Lauren Lowe leads the celebrations for Jersey, lifting the women's Siam Cup

In the men's Siam, Jersey got back to winning ways with a 42-25 victory over Guernsey. Tries from Roy Godfrey, Mark Boarer (2), Jack MacFarlane and Charlie Hubert, along with 17 points from the boot of fly half Aaron Penberthy, helped them to the victory in front of 2,500 at the Stade Santander International.

Keeping with Jersey-Guernsey clashes, and in cricket a young Jersey side posted an inter-insular record of 316-4 at KGV. Jonty Jenner's century in an unbroken partnership of 208 with Zak Tribe provided the platform for the 173-run win.

Coach Neil MacRae, who marks 10 years in charge of Jersey this week, led the island's top male cricketers into battle on the international stage again in 2023, and will perhaps look back on the year as one which got away. What might have been.

Back in July, three wins and three losses in Scotland saw Jersey finish in fourth spot at the T20 World Cup Qualifier. A top two place, which would have secured a remarkable qualification for next summer's showpiece global event, was left hanging tantalising just a couple of wins out of reach.

Jersey batting against Italy
Jersey took on international opposition again in 2023 - credit ICC

Earlier in the year, Jersey's men had played their first ever matches to carry international (ODI) status, when they'd travelled to Namibia for the 50-overs ICC World Cup qualifier play-off. An 11-run win over Papua New Guinea in which Asa Tribe and Josh Lawrenson both hit centuries was the highlight.

Jersey's women hosted ICC T20 World Cup Qualifiers of their own in a memorable week, and tasted success against Italy, Turkey and Sweden. Losses to the Germans and French though meant the young Lionesses finished in third place and missed out on the next stage of the road to Bangladesh 2024.

Having impressed in their south-west regional league last season, Team Jets narrowly missed out on promotion to netball's Premier League Three, losing their play-off final to Blackpool. Former England captain Serena Kersten is now head coach for the Jets, replacing long-serving Linda Andrews, with the side well-placed in second spot heading into 2024.

Away from team sports, and a long way from home, young triathlete Luke Holmes was Jersey's star of the Commonwealth Youth Games in Trinadad and Tobago. His gold in the super sprint event was Jersey's first at the Youth Games since 2004.

There was, of course, much more too, and I will no doubt have missed many moments. Apologies in advance! Bring on 2024...

Most read stories of 2023 on thegantry.je

  1. Championship champions! Jersey Reds win the league title
  2. 10 years on: Watson and Boyle getting the test they craved
  3. The Gantry's Premiership 1 season preview - 2023-24
  4. Island Games: Jersey end 14-year wait for men's football gold
  5. We go again - Jersey rugby fans getting behind amateur side