Old Crossleyans’ transformation from ugly ducklings to swans was completed yesterday when they clinched promotion to Yorkshire One with a game to spare.
A stunning 50-5 home win over Barnsley in the battle of the second and third-placed teams, plus a surprise 20-13 defeat for fourth-placed Yarnbury at lowly Thornensians, gave them the runners-up berth behind champions Pontefract.
It raises the prospect of numerous Calderdale derby fixtures next season with Heath, Old Brodleians and Old Rishworthians already in Yorkshire One, although Heath still have a chance of promotion themselves.
Crocs player-coach Ryan Hammond felt his side’s hopes of going up had perished when they lost at home to Goole in mid-January but since then the influence of new backs coach Gareth Greenwood has been apparent in some rock-solid defence and exciting attacking play.
The Broomfield side have metamorphosed into a completely different creature to that which had got used to fighting, and losing, relegation battles at this stage of the campaign.
Barnsley may have wobbled recently but they arrived hell-bent on winning and with a huge pack and the trusty boot of stand off Josh Smith to help them do just that.
They dominated possession and field position for large sections of the game but only managed to cross the try line once against hosts who played for 30 minutes with 14 men due to yellow cards for No 8 Hammond, centre Freddie Walker and hooker Cameron Brannan.
Crocs led just 12-5 at half time but young winger George Ackroyd’s try on 48 minutes opened the floodgates and another five scores followed as the Barnsley defence was shredded by a succession of high-speed breaks from distance.
In much-improved conditions, the visitors were soon pressing through their forwards. They were met by enthusiastic and committed defence, led by Hammond who was joined on the field by brothers Jack, George and Billy.
Crocs opened the scoring on 14 minutes after a chip kick from young scrum half Joe Stott had found touch. They forced an error and from the scrum 25 metres out took advantage of a leaden-footed Barnsley defence, left winger Gareth Sweeney strolling in for an unconverted try.
Smith’s excellent restarts enabled Barnsley to get the ball back on a few occasions. The visitors pressed again and Ryan Hammond was sin-binned for offside but outstanding lock Martin Hamer not only stole lineout ball near his own line but then galloped away from a charged down kick 10 metres inside the home half for Crocs’ second try on 29 minutes. Fullback Callum Dunne added the first of five conversions.
When Hammond returned, Walker replaced him on the sidelines after not retiring 10 metres at a tap-penalty and Barnsley pulled back five points when winger Elliot Copley pounced on a clever inside grubber kick.
The visitors pressed again after the break but Dunne launched a counter-attack and although Ackroyd was denied a try by a marginal forward pass on 46 minutes, there was no doubt about the legitimacy of his effort two minutes later after more good work from Hamer.
Dunne converted and added another fine kick as Crocs moved out to 26-5 on 54 minutes when the quicksilver Walker went past three opponents near the bottom touchline.
Three tries in seven minutes from the hour mark widened the gap. Dunne showed his paces on an angled run; Mark Boothroyd swatted off four or five defenders to go under the posts; and the powerful Boothroyd then set up hard-working back row colleague Iain Davies for Crocs’ seventh score.
Brannan had to sit out the last 10 minutes but Crocs maintained their defensive intensity and hit the 50-point mark for the fourth game in a row when Dunne sent in Stott in the closing seconds.
After the game Ryan Hammond had been confident that his side would complete the task at mid-table Roundhegians next Saturday. Then the news of Yarnbury’s defeat came through.