Colum Slevin’s EVC 2013

Lorestas Trumpauskas and Colum Slevin

Colum Slevin’s EVC 2013

A week may be a long time in politics, but it is amazing what can be done in six weeks of structured application in table tennis if you are Colum Slevin! Competing in a hard bat tournament at Alexandra Palace in January whetted his appetite for more involved tournament play. It also helped that the latest Texo blade with new Evolution MX-P rubbers from Tibhar renewed his confidence. Like many others, he has not been happy with new equipment since the speed glue ban.

Practicing for only six weeks beforehand brought Colum to a level where he just might enjoy himself competing at the European Veterans Championships in May. John Murphy,Guy Elensky, Peter McCabe, Mark O’Flynn and Kevin Mackey were his principal practice partners in Dublin. However, he did have doubts on his physical stamina and lack of match practice prior to Bremen.

Colum was a little apprehensive about Norway’s Frode Grini, his first opponent in his Singles group, knowing that he just might face defeat. At the same time, he was fully aware that he would have to play himself into the tournament. “The great players never play their best at the start of matters. They play better as the tournament progresses. The best opportunity for a surprise win is always in the early rounds”. Sure enough, he lost the first set. He really clawed his way back in the second to win 11-8, before winning out in four sets. In hindsight, one wonders if he deliberately courted tense situations like 3-7 down to prepare for such eventualities against better quality opposition!

In the Main Draw on Thursday, he gave a great demonstration of his abilities, winning several close singles matches to make it to the last 16. He put in a herculean effort against Kepper to win the second set 17-15, going on to win 3-1. “It’s more difficult to play adventurous forehands when two sets down. I really had to dig deep there”. Despite being in serious difficulties with Lednev of Russia, he always seemed to have the ability to grind out those crucial winning points to secure tight sets. He saved at least one match point against Germany’s Joachim Beumers before winning 12-10 in the fifth. This was a very tense, draining affair in front of an enthusiastic audience. Shortly thereafter, he ran out of steam against his doubles partner, Lorestas Trumpauskas, losing in three sets. “I knew my legs were gone after missing an easy forehand early on”, he confessed. “Some of the early rounds could have been played on Wednesday morning to lighten the schedule”.

Playing high octane table tennis from early afternoon until 10 pm obviously leaves one charged up. It certainly helped Colum to unwind a little afterwards when he stumbled upon an hilarious covert workshop on foul service techniques given by Keld Jaksland at the El Sol Restaurant. This was greatly appreciated by an enthusiastic entourage, including many Norwegian friends. In spite of that, he could not really sleep overnight!

 Looking at the draw for Men’s Doubles, Colum felt that there was not one outstanding doubles combination, and that he and his partner Lorestas had a realistic chance of a podium finish. The group stages on Tuesday allowed him to familiarise himself with the style of play favoured by Lorestas, a powerful, aggressive left hander.

On Friday, they eased through two early round matches before facing the defensive combination of Detlef Gassler & Norbert Adolf for Germany. Winning the first two sets comfortably, the third set was tied at 4-4. However, the constant demands of playing heavy forehand topspins resulted in Colum straining a shoulder muscle. They lost that set 4-11, and limped over the line 11-9 in the fourth. Though they won their next match in four sets, Colum’s service action and forehand kill were obviously hampered by the muscle strain. The portents were ominous for the semi-final on the following day. Could ice packs and anti-inflammatories save the situation? Physio, heal thyself!!

In the practice hall on Finals Day, Kevin Mackey earned his spurs while giving Lorestas a 40 minute workout before Colum arrived for a shorter routine to complete preparations. It is not known whether Lorestas is a Crystal Palace fan or not, but he is familiar with several such happy souls at Fusion, his TT Club in London!

The setting of the OVB ARENA provided a marvellous backdrop to a wonderful semi-final with Russians Kushov &Kushkov. A bald scoreline of -9, -15, 14, 10, 9 cannot convey the intensity of such an absorbing encounter. Lorestas played the more aggressive role while Colum seemed to contain affairs. That shoulder was causing problems. Leading 1-4 in the fourth set, the Russian pair called “time out”, but Colum & Lorestas fought back to win 12-10. Colum & Lorestas led 5-0 at the turnaround in the fifth. The Russian pair proceeded to serve a wrong court… 6-0. However they clawed their way back to 10-8, when Colum called “time out”… 10-9. Thereupon, Lorestas hit a fabulous forehand winner to claim the match. PHEW!

The final against Georg Bohm & Andreas Fejer-Konnert was delayed by some 30 minutes awaiting the outcome of an earlier match. Losing a close first set 9-11, Colum was 1-6 down early in the second set. Lorestas pulled out some delightful angled winners, and they levelled at 7-7. Colum hit one incredible forehand to lead 10-9, and the set was secured. In the third set, Lorestas played some telling service returns and powerful forehands to win 11-7.

At that point, this match was the only one on court, and the large audience were rightly enthralled. The cut and thrust of tactical counter play brought Colum to within two points of championship glory. Alas, the set was lost 9-11. Bohm & Fejer-Konnert started the fifth set in commanding fashion, going 0-4 up. They retained their advantage, and were always two points ahead. Trailing 7-9, a “time out” for Colum & Lorestas could not alter the trend of that final set…. Bohm & Fejer-Konnert secured a notable championship title.

One point in that final gave an indication of Colum’s reservoir of talent: holding his free hand aloft to call attention to a “wrong court” service, Colum nonchalantly blocked two full-blooded forehand drives before a “let” was called and the point properly awarded!!

Though Irish eyes may not have been smiling full on, Colum has given us involvement, excitement and adrenaline to live long in the memory bank! Coach extraordinaire, Tommy Rowsome, and long-serving Ireland NPC, Pat O’Brien, must take great pleasure in this accomplishment. Doubtless, his wife, Birgit, was on tenterhooks throughout, though she had remained at home.

It gives pause for thought that Colum has been on this primrose path since the European Cadets Championships in the late 70’s. Of course, many rocks and obstacles are strewn thereon. He has honed his skills with endless hours of practice, physical conditioning and adherence to dietary regimens. His sharp competitive instincts have been forged in the professional arena in Germany. He has represented Ireland with distinction for more than twenty five years. His Gold Medal at the European Veterans Championships in Rotterdam and a Bronze at the Worlds in Rio are on the record. At the Arena Complex, greeting many friends, rivals and mentors, the regard in which Colum is held was obvious. The manner in which he coped with the demands of so many different people was exemplary. TV interviews were conducted just as a matter of routine…

To be involved at the business end of affairs at a major championship as a mere spectator is greatly energising. One can only imagine how it feels from Colum’s viewpoint. Hopefully, when the stardust settles, he will take many positives from this performance, with a renewed enjoyment in the sport to which he has given so much. RESPECT!