The last – and most prestigious – event of a season which started last August was held in Palmerstown on 22nd April, and as always it was very well supported. Finishing time was almost 11pm, but all the events were played to a conclusion.
Daryl was favourite for the 40s but had a low seeding position due to earlier injury and illness. He had probably the hardest possible draw but duly made his way to the final with wins over Rita Kacsandi (in his group), second seed Phil (who had lost to Marcus in his group), Rory in a tough 5 setter, and top seed Tibor 3-0 (12-10, 11-3, 11-8). In the bottom half Rita prospered, taking out Pat, Paul Gallagher, and then Marcus in 5 sets (15-13, 7-11, 4-11, 11-9, 11-4).
The final was a classic. Daryl won 11-9, 11-7, 10-12, 11-6, after Rita had saved match points in the third. Both players attacked and counter-attacked with style and quality, Rita’s punched backhands and difficult serves were a constant threat, but Daryl was a worthy, though tired, winner of his sixth Irish 40s title.
There was only likely to be one winner of the Ladies’ event. Rita, proficient as ever, won her group without dropping a game, with Anne Marie runner-up. Ikuko was third and Renata Gadula fourth. In the other group Susan beat Ger 11-8, 11-6, 11-5, to win the group, with Sharon third and Joanna Zeweld was fourth.
In the crossover semi-final matches, Rita dropped a game to Ger, winning 9-11, 11-5, 11-6, 11-7, and Anne Marie overcame Susan 11-9, 11-6, 11-9. Rita was ruthless in the final, beating Anne Marie 11-6, 11-7, 11-6.
The 50s, which was the last event of the day, produced surprises, shocks, and fireworks. In the pick of the last 16 matches, Rod McKirgan beat Philip Shaw deuce in the fifth (11-7, 8-11, 11-2, 10-12, 12-10), Paul Gallagher beat Mark McAllister 11-9, 11-6, 11-7, Des Flanagan had a titanic struggle to beat Tommy Fitzgerald 3-11,11-6, 16-18, 11-9, 12-10, and Sean McAnaney was taken to a close fifth by Dave Pemberton,11-9, 11-4, 9-11, 9-11, 11-7.
There were no shocks in the quarters as Tibor beat Des, Sean beat Paul, Daryl beat Dave Gibbons, and Pat McCloughan beat Rod, with only Pat dropping a game. In the semis Daryl overpowered Pat while Sean was leading 2-1 when Tibor conceded.
Daryl was a heavy favourite to win the final, his twelfth match of the day – Sean was also in his second final – but Sean had a straightforward game-plan. Defend for his life, and if he had an opportunity play an occasional aggressive shot. The redoubtable Derry player has improved immeasurably since our sport recommenced after the enforced covid break. Last year he won the National 60s, this year it was the 50s. It was a hard-fought 3-1 victory, crucially he won the third with an uncharacteristic forehand winner; he then recovered in the fourth from a 2-6 deficit to lead 10-6 and was able to close it out for an unexpected but popular win – a fitting end to the last match of our season.
The 60s is becoming more competitive each season, and there are now several potential winners, with no-one standing out as clear favourite. It was great to see former Irish international Jimmy Robinson taking time out from conquering the ice-cream world and we hope that his comeback will continue next season.
Highlights in the early knockout stages included Tommy Fitzgerald beating Dave Pemberton 3-0, Terry Dolan worked hard to beat Connacht team-mate Kariem 3-1, Des Flanagan coming from behind to beat Fergal O’Hagan 11-8 in the fifth, and Jeremy Lappin beating Keld Jaksland 3-1. Most of the last 8 matches were relatively straightforward, with the semi-finals resulting in Sean beating Terry 7-11, 11-9, 11-9, 11-7, and Des overcoming Philip 11-5, 4-11, 11-7, 11-6.
So the stage was set for a final with more than a title at stake. This was the fifth time in 3 tournaments that Sean and Des, travelling companions and team-mates in the Omagh club, had met, and while Sean was already confirmed as Irish no.1, Des needed to win to secure his place on the Irish team. He did so in fine style, 11-4, 12-10, 4-11, 11-4.
And so to the 70s, keenly contested as always, except for those who had the misfortune to run into Tommy Caffrey, who sailed into the final without being troubled by Ken Peare or Albert Coulter, runner-up last year. Title-holder Norman had a nightmare in his group, losing 3-1 to Albert. In the three games Albert won, he dropped only six points in total! Norman was then pitted against perennial rival Brian Finn, just emerging the winner 11-9 in the fifth – about an average score when those two meet. Norman beat Jeremy Lappin 3-0 in the semi, but in doing so by common consent he used up an entire season of nets and edges! The first game in the final was close 11-9, but once Tommy had that one under his belt he won the next 2 11-6, 11-5.
It has been great to note the increase in numbers this season. Given that the Nationals is an event restricted to players who are qualified to represent Ireland, there is a slight drop in the number of competitors, but the figures stack up well – 40s 24, 50s 27, 60s 25, 70s 13, Ladies 12.
Finally, sympathy for the organisers who have to deal with ever-increasing pressure to finish at a reasonable hour. A big thank you to these organisers, particularly Dave and Sharon Gibbons, and Dave Pender. The assistance from Ger, Anne Marie and Jim was invaluable. The contribution by Viv and Teresa at the top table is greatly appreciated. It was also good to see TT Ireland President Tony Martin paying us a visit and presenting some of the awards.