The much delayed 2021 JOOLA Irish National Championships finally took place on 20/21 November 2021, in Valley Leisure Centre.
With various restrictions still in place, and with a congested calendar, there were a number of changes and redraws from the original Nationals event draw and format, but all the main challengers remained involved from the original entry, and the event went ahead largely as planned. Across nine different decades, through war time, troubles, weather delays, and a pandemic, the National Championships has been running since 1937, and 2021 saw another successful event.
Day 1 saw the Mens and Ladies, Mens U21, and Cadet Singles events get under way. The change in date had impacted a number of players across all events, with illness and missed connections causing the withdrawal of several other players, however there was a high quality field across both Senior events. A number of upset results across the Mens event early in the singles ended up with an all Dublin top half, as Alexander Gillen took on Tom Davis, while Dillon Byrne faced Joey Nelson. Meanwhile, in the bottom half, there was a distinctly Ormeau feel, with the clash of the Skelton brothers, as well as Zak Wilson facing 2020 Silver Medallist Ryan Farrell (DCU). With Gillen coming past Byrne at semi-final stage, and Farrell accounting for James Skelton in a close five-setter, the question to be answered was whether Farrell would go one better than last year and take the Senior title, or would Gillen record his first National Singles title victor at any level. A strong start from Gillen left Farrell chasing the game and, despite conceding the 3rd end, Gillen stepped up a level in set four to take his first National title. The Ladies event saw the late withdrawal of former Champion and top seed Mia O’Rahilly Egan, which left the field wide open for everyone else. An all Ulster top half saw Lucy McIvor come past Erin Thompson, and Rebecca Finn defeat Anna Kelly, both at QF stage, Finn scrapping her way to the final in a tight 5 setter. In the bottom half, Sabina Devereux was comfortable in the quarters against Renata Gadula, but had to dig deeper at SF stage in a see-saw 4 setter against Claire Heller (who had earlier beaten Laura Finn in the quarters), with Devereux winning out to make the final. The SF match had taken it out of Devereux, though, with Glenburn’s Finn never really threatened, easing to a 3-0 victory to take a first Senior title.
In Mens U21, there was danger throughout the draw, but it was a second final appearance of the day for Gillen, coming past Max Skelton at QF stage and Jonny Mooney in SF, Mooney earlier defeating Adam Faulkner. In the bottom half James Skelton eased through to the final, defeating Joey Nelson and Dillon Byrne at QF and SF stages, Byrne earlier defeating Barry O’Keeffe. A very tight match, at the end of a long day for both players, saw Dublin TT’s Gillen take his second National title.
The Cadet events were volatile affairs, with seeds tumbling throughout both draws, however the seeding held true at the top of the draws with Loop’s Gellert Moravcsik confirming his top seed status with a win over Ben Watson (NICS) in the final, having come past Bruce Tan in the semi finals; Watson took his place in the final with a win over Aedan McGivern in their semi final. Cadet Girls also saw the top seed emerge victorious, Anjali Singh defeating Grace Looney in an all Ormeau final, with Singh defeating Lily Smith at SF stage, and Looney coming past Emily Flynn in their semi.
Mini-Cadet kicked things off on Sunday, and with clubs struggling under restrictions, now for a third season in a row, the Mini-Cadet field was smaller than usual. Despite this, some high quality matches saw Grace Looney (Ormeau) take the Girls National title ahead of Lily Parke (Glenburn), while Bruce Tan (Loop) is the Boys National Champion, ahead of club mate Vincent Ni.
The Junior events closed off the weekend, with previous National Champions and Runners Up scattered across both Boys and Girls draws. In the Boys draw, top seed Dillon Byrne had to do it the hard way, defeating the 2nd, 3rd and 4th seeds (Craigavon’s Tom Colvin, and Ormeau’s Jonathan Mooney and James Skelton) en-route to his first Junior Boys National title, with a 3-0 win in the final against Mooney. The Junior Girls finished out the day, with an all Ormeau 1-2, Anna Kelly squeezing through ahead of Lucy McIvor.
As with every event there is a huge amount of work that goes on beyond the scenes, but, even more than usual, this event would not have happened without the effort and contribution of a number of people, who went above and beyond what should have been necessary. Our office team, Shauna & John, had to deal with a huge number of changes and plan adjustments, including managing last minute withdrawals and communications. Our Referee Con O’Ceadaigh, Events Manager Kieran Reilly, and the Events Committee had multiple challenges, dodging land mines everywhere (many of which kept appearing from nowhere!), which they handled with amazing resilience. Volunteers at the event, including Referees Assistant Niall O’Flaherty, and local Umpires Jay McAllister and Adrian Brown, as well as other volunteer Umpires throughout the weekend, made a huge difference to the smooth running of the tournament. With nobody available from the Ulster Branch, we are also thankful to the volunteers from Dublin TT who travelled up early to Valley to set up the hall. Finally, former Ulster Branch Chair Arnold Morgan was the lynchpin, presenting the prizes and working with the office and the Events Committee, as an ordinary volunteer and in an independent capacity, for the good of the whole membership. Without him, the National Championships would not have happened, and the membership owes him a debt of gratitude.
2021 National Champions
Senior Mens – Alexander Gillen (Dublin)
U21 Mens – Alexander Gillen (Dublin)
Junior Boys – Dillon Byrne (Dublin)
Cadet Boys – Gellert Moravcsik (Loop)
Mini Cadet Boys – Bruce Tan (Loop)
Senior Ladies – Rebecca Finn (Glenburn)
Junior Girls – Anna Kelly (Ormeau)
Cadet Girls – Anjali Singh (Ormeau)
Mini Cadet Girls – Grace Looney (Ormeau)