BEFORE the days of league rugby union, the Yorkshire RFU’s knockout competitions breathed excitement into the end of a season.

Spring evenings brought hundreds of spectators out to watch senior clubs such as Morley, Headingley, Roundhay, Bradford, Otley, Sheffield and Middlesbrough battling away, often against ‘junior’ rivals.

And woe betide any ‘big gun’ that was drawn at Thornensians or Old Crossleyans as they risked getting their noses well and truly put out of joint via an embarrassing setback, with the junior clubs seeing it as a way to try and improve their fixture lists.

The finals of the Yorkshire Cup, Yorkshire Shield and Yorkshire Silver Trophy were occasions in themselves, and what self-respecting skipper didn’t want to get his hands on, for example, ‘Tow’d Tin Pot’ (Yorkshire Cup) or the magnificent Yorkshire Shield?

The latter weighty silverware was presented to Baildon only earlier this month, after they defeated Bradford Salem 28-22 at the home of Doncaster Knights.

The Yorkshire Cup started in 1878, the Yorkshire Shield in 1894, the Yorkshire Silver Trophy in 1974 and the Yorkshire Vase in 2017, so there are centuries of history and tradition all told.

After the introduction of league rugby, however, the three county cup competitions (now four with the addition of the Vase) gradually faded into the background as leagues became a priority.

It was more important to be promoted within a league structure or to avoid relegation than to worry about any county competitions.

Inevitably, clubs started to give walkovers rather than risk one of their top players getting injured on hard grounds in a midweek cup tie or their first-team squad getting fatigued.

Saturdays were the priority, not Tuesdays or Wednesdays.

What started as a ripple of concessions has become a torrent – so much so that, amazingly, no match was played in the 2022-23 Yorkshire Shield until that thrilling final.

Six walkovers in all there, while there were two in the Yorkshire Cup, three in the Silver Trophy (including a semi-final) and five in the Vase (including both semi-finals).

Yorkshire’s knockout competitions have been swimming against the tide for a while now, but anyone who was at Doncaster’s Castle Park to witness the four finals was made well aware of what it meant to the teams to be playing there and what it meant to the spectators.

In truth we were royally entertained in what is the Yorkshire RFU’s 150th anniversary.

Mosborough defeated Hornsea 20-17 in the Vase via an extra-time golden point; West Park Leeds beat Hemsworth 34-28 in a thrilling Silver Trophy decider; and Baildon won that Shield final 28-22 against derby rivals Salem.

The day concluded with the Yorkshire Cup, won by Middlesbrough 30-24 against Sandal.

But what is the way forward for Yorkshire’s knockout competitions, which this season were up against both weather-delayed league matches and an inaugural nationwide competition, the Papa Johns Community Cup.

Peter Morgan, chairman of the Yorkshire RFU’s Competitions Committee, said: “The RFU have reduced the number of teams in leagues from 14 to 12, so clubs have a window of opportunity to play other matches, and we see the Yorkshire cup competitions as that window to be used in September, October or November.

“We would be delighted to come back to Doncaster next season and have a similar event to what we had today.

“We are having a meeting imminently about how the competitions have gone, and we will communicate with clubs shortly.”

As for the cup walkovers, Morgan said: “It was unfortunate that weather delayed league matches in December and January, which meant that the Papa Johns started late because the league season finished late.

“So our cup competitions also started late and, with the best will in the world, we tried to put on a reasonable competitions day.

“It has been successful here (Finals Day), but we want more clubs to take part and understand that cup competitions can be useful to generate income for clubs.

“We don’t want clubs to play in either the Papa Johns or our cups. We want them to use those reserve Saturdays to play cups and then the Papa Johns has been earmarked next season for April and early May, so the middle of May next season could be another day out at Doncaster.

“All of the finals here have been really competitive – the first went to a golden point and the second went almost to the final minute, and then Baildon beating Bradford Salem, which was interesting as they are in different leagues, as are Middlesbrough and Sandal.

“When we have done the count-ups and we see what feedback we get from the clubs who took part and other members we will be in a position to say more, but we are pleased with how Finals Day has gone.”