The 2016 Primary Schools International was played out on the Island of Guernsey over the weekend as a 11 strong Irish Continguent made the trip to compete in the home countries event.
Looking to continue the form of recent years and bring home some medals, the Irish teams had strength in abundance. The Boys were represented by Thomas Joyce, Art McLaughlin, Dillon Byrne and Matthew Cherry (NPC Conn Higgins) while the Girls lined up with Natasya Barry, Silke Heinen, Sophie Earley and Pravesha Ragi (NPC John Murphy).
The Team Event opened proceedings on the Friday evening eventually coming to a finale on Saturday afternoon.
Both Irish teams were on fire for the opening two days, sweeping all before them as they charged towards the podium positions. Following 10-0 victories against Jersey, Guernsey, The Isle of Man and Wales, the boys faced Scotland and England to decide the medal order. They didn’t disappoint, as they brushed aside their Scottish opposition by an 9-1 scoreline before overcoming the threat of Engand in the Gold medal match. They were made to battle here, but came through a number a tricky encounters before sealing an 8-2 victory. Thomas Joyce was the star performer on this occasion, as he beat the English Number 1 (and eventual Singles winner) in a closely fought 5 set thriller.
The Girls, winners of the Team Event on the last 5 occasions, were looking to make history in Guernsey as they bid for their sixth consecutive Primary Schools International Team title. Like the boys, however, they didn’t let their favourites tag hinder their progress, as they came out of the blocks quickly as the team event commenced on Friday evening. 10-0 wins in their opening three fixtures left a tie with England to come in their penultimate match.
Their strength in depth saw them through here, as like the boys, they battled their way to an 8-2 victory. This set up a last match showdown with Scotland as the Gold medal loomed. The girls, led by Natasya Barry, who was making her fourth appearance at the event, were unstoppable in the end, as they overcame the Scots 9-1 to seal their place at the top of the podium!
On to Singles Sunday, and the Irish team were back on the medal trail as they looked to add to their impressive tally. Our boys and girls were off to a strong start here, as all eight Irish representatives came through their groups and into the knockout stages.
Dillon Byrne was the first to cause a real stir here as the Griffeen Valley boy, who has shown his capabilities in the International arena before, stunned top seed and Irish teammate Thomas Joyce in the quarter finals. Thomas won the opening two sets comfortably, before Dillon showed his battling qualities to take three tight sets to edge out the Mayo youngster.
In the other half, Art McLaughlin and Matthew Cherry faced off in another all Irish quarter final. It was success for the Leinster again here, as Art sealed his place in the Semis. Art was then quick to book his place in the final, as he battled past Louie Evans of Wales.
It wasn’t to be an All-Irish boys final though, as Dillons brave run came to an end at the hands of top English player Naphong Boomyaprapa. Unfortunately the final was to result in the same outcome, as Art fought hard and produced some real quality, but couldn’t stop the charge of Naphong as he won by a 3-1 scoreline.
On the Girls side, more drama was to unfold. Like the boys, with the knockout rounds littered with Irish, we were bound to have some all-irish showdowns. This proved to be the case, but not until the later stages! 9 year old Sophie Earley won through her last 16 and quarter final matches in impressive fashion. This set up as semi final with teammate Silke Heinen. Silke had also had a strong run, beating Mansfield of England in the quarters. The semi was to be a real dogged contest. Silke went 2-0 up, only to be pegged back to 2-2. With everything on the line in the decider, it was to be Sophie who would book her place in the final as she closed our an impressive comeback. On the top half of the draw things were more straight forward. Natasya Barry was showing why she was seeded number 1 as she sailed through the draw in impressive fashion. In the quarters she beat Green (ENG) before overcoming Pravesha Ragis conquerer, Sophie Chang (ENG) in the semis.
And so we had an All–irish final, as Natasya Barry and Sophie Earley faced off. Sophie was first out of the blocks, and for long periods looked like she was set to cause the upset. However at 0-2, Natasya came again, showing an excellent level under pressure to get herself back in the match. At 2-2, Sophie again faced another 1 set shootout, however it wasn’t to be. Natasya was too strong, and in her last year in Primary school, she wouldn’t let this one slip as she sealed victory in the decider – an excellent match between our two Irish girls!
Overall, it was an outstanding weekend for our young Irish squad. Clear evidence of the extra focus on the mini-cadet programme over the past few years can be seen from these excellent results. Onwards and upwards here for this batch of young players!