Strong sees off Academy Strongtower challenge to claim the County Antrim Open title.
Fifty nine table tennis enthusiasts from all over Ireland travelled to the Ballymena Academy gymnasiums to participate in the 2012 County Antrim Open. The quality entry included no less than fourteen of Ulster’s top twenty players headed by new Ulster number one Philip Wallace. Top Ulster veteran Pawel Sulkowski was back trying to defend the title he won in 2011 and Daryl Strong, a former Irish number one, also choose the event for his welcomed return to tournament play.
To qualify for the Open event the players had to finish in the top two of a group of six players. Anyone in third place qualified for the Class two event, those fourth in their group qualified for the Class three event and fifth and sixth placed players battled out for the Class four event. There was a total of ten seeds each heading one of the ten groups.
In the qualifying group stages the top seed Philip Wallace qualified from group one unscathed with convincing victories over Ballycastle’s Francis Shirley, John Walker, NICS’s Will Fleming, Coleraine’s T Cichey and Belfast’s Andrew Loane. Loane snatched second place to continue in the Open competition.
Second seed Fermanagh’s Gervis Knox was top of a very competitive group two defeating Zac Wilson, Randolph Loney, Arnold Morgan, Maurice Rooney and local Ballymena lad Johnny Moore. Belfast’s Maurice Rooney edged second spot ahead of Glenburn’s Zac Wilson and Tandragee defender Randolph Loney by virtue of sets won.
In Group three Academy Strongtower player, and Ballymena Open winner, Dawid Sulkowski romped into the Open with some excellent attacking table tennis defeating Ivan Jeffers, Paul McGuiggan, Vincent O’Regan, Joe Mullan and the youngest competitor in the event ten year old Philip Montgomery. Tyrone’s Ivan Jeffers accompanied Sulkowski into the Open.
Group four had the defending champion Academy Strongtower’s Pawel Sulkowski in fine form finishing top of the group ahead of Ballymoney ace Gary McClelland, Peter Martin, Adrian Pietras, Ray Fleming and Michael Cichey. McClelland, playing his best table tennis of the season, also made it into the Open.
Group five was a real tough group with Martin Pickles causing the first upset of the day defeating fifth seed Mark McAllister in five gruelling sets. McAllister did finish second defeating Wexford’s Jake Kells, Anthony Dobbs, and team mate Ingus Feldmanus to give the host club Academy Strongtower three qualifiers for the Open.
In Group six Belfast stalwart Ted Mahaffey qualified along with fellow veteran Ian Davies from Ballyclare, each securing wins over Anselm Brankin, Colin Clements, Maurice McCullough and Michael McLarnon.
Group seven had top seed and pimples specialist Roy Coard top the group ahead of Ballyclare’s Gary Crawford with wins over Brian Lockhart, Shane Murray, Thomas Davies and Zac Ng.
In group eight Philip Jamison, as expected, topped the group with Dublin’s Kalen O’Neill a close second thanks to wins over Richard Black, Alan Cairns, Jonny Wilson and William Walker.
The ninth group had the only seeded casualty of the day with Barry Dickson ending up third behind group winner Daryl Strong and the ever improving Trevor Knox. Alan Jamison, James Dillon and Harry McGoldrick also succumbed to the attacking play of Strong and Knox.
The tenth and final group also had a minor upset as Richard Davies qualified ahead of Mark Gordon with wins over Jimmy O’Hara, David Boyd and John Moore. Gordon also made it to the Open as runner-up.
The County Antrim Open’s twenty qualifiers then formed four further groups of five with the winner of each group progressing to the semi-finals. The first group saw top seed and Ulster number one Philip Wallace lose to a rejuvenated Daryl Strong in four brilliant sets of table tennis 7-11, 11—8, 3-11. 10-12. Second seed Gervis Knox marched majestically to the semis with four wins where he would meet his nemesis from previous tournaments the young Dawid Sulkowski. Defending champion Pawel Sulkowski took the last semi final spot with four excellent wins – only defender Maurice Rooney was able to take a set from the champion. Pawel would have Daryl Strong as his semi-final opponent.
In the first semi-final the defending champion Pawel Sulkowski found Daryl Strong on top form and although he managed to take a set from the Newry teacher it was Strong that progressed to the final.
The second semi-final proved a step too far for Gervis Knox as he lost in four frantic sets to Dawid Sulkowski 7-11, 11-9, 12-14, 9-11 with the third set proving his waterloo losing a good lead and a set point that would have put him in the driving seat.
The final turned out to be a five set classic with Dawid taking a close first set 12-10. Strong took the second set comfortably but lost a tight third set. It looked like the reigning Ballymena Open champion Dawid Sulkowski was going to add the Co Antrim to his trophy cabinet but Strong clawed his way back into contention with an excellent exhibition of attacking table tennis to take the fourth set and he repeated the medicine in the fifth set to claim the title.
The Class two event went to Barry Dickson who defeated starlet Zac Wilson over five sets. The experienced Dickson had to use all his guile to defeat Wilson recovering from a set down and two sets to one down to snatch victory 5-11, 11-8, 6-11, 12-10, and 11-5
The Class three event was won by Randolph Loney whose super defence could not be consistently penetrated by Wexford’s attack-minded Anthony Dobbs. Loney won in straight sets 11-7, 11-8, 11-7.
The Class four semi finals were very keenly contested. In the first semi Ballymoney’s Paul McGuiggan defeated Banbridge’s Arnold Morgan in five sets 5-11, 11-5, 11-6, 6-11, 11-7. The second semi final was a Fleming family affair between brothers Will and Ray Fleming. Ray edged the first set 12-10 but Will fought back strongly to take the second set 11-7. Ray won a close third set 11-9 and took an even closer fourth set 12-10. In the final McGuiggan produced his A-game to defeat Fleming 11-8, 11-7, 11-8.
The outgoing County Antrim Secretary Norman McBride thanked all the competitors for their sporting behaviour, Ballymena Academy and host club Academy Strongtower for the use of the gymnasiums, ex Irish international table tennis star Jimmy O’Hara for doing the presentations, Arnold Morgan and his fellow umpires for their assistance, Andrew Dennison Sports for the ball sponsorship, Ted Mahaffy for supplying additional scoreboards’ and nets and all the people that assisted with setting up and taking down of the tables, surrounds and umpires tables etc.
A pair of Stiga trainers and two tops were left in the gym after the tournament. Please e-mail Norman McBride if any of the items are yours [ [email protected]]