Gavin Maguire: Blog 5 from Tokyo

Blog 5 – Nationals and Internationals

It’s been a while since I got around to writing the next edition of the blog, so it’s about time I wrote blog 5. There’s been plenty of table tennis inside and outside of Ireland since I last wrote about it and I will do my best to include it all so forgive me if some parts are briefer than others.

                To kick off this blog I have to start by talking about the National Championships. With so much of the seasons training and competition being geared up to the Nationals at the beginning of March it is hard to say it’s not the biggest tournament of the year for almost all players and coaches in Ireland. The prestige of being involved, competing, winning and potentially being crowned National Champion is huge.  This year the event was in the University of Limerick which is a great facility and was a good home for the Nationals this year. The level of play at this year’s nationals I felt was at an all-time high. Especially seeing some of the juniors progress to the last 16 and quarter finals and challenge the seniors. Every match from the semi-final onwards being a titanic 7 set battle the spectators were given a tournament to enjoy. For me personally it ended in despair. I won against John Murphy 4-3 in the semi-final which is always a great result as he’s a 5 time National Champion. I then found myself in the final, racing to a 3-1 lead over Paul McCreery and in a position to take my 2nd national title only to be pipped to the line by Paul 4-3. I can only compliment him, he’s a real fighter and I just couldn’t cross the line, he wouldn’t let me. He fought for every point and made me work extremely hard. I hope I can say the same that I made him work hard as he probably ever has for a title. Congratulations to him but hopefully I’ll be back next year and things might go in my favour next time. Unfortunately it was the same story in the doubles and mixed doubles I lost out again in the final match of both competitions. Three 2nd place finishes at the Nationals is not what I had hoped for but a good result all the same, I took plenty of positives from my performances and hope to improve on them in the future.

                Moving on from the Nationals, the training didn’t stop for long. After a short break to get over the disappointment and to regain motivation to push forward, I got back to the drawing board as I was entered in the German Open Pro Tour. As the event was in Magdeburg which is just an hour from our base in Eilenburg, myself and Ashley travelled there to compete and hopefully claim a scalp. I was drawn against Ionescu from Romania and Kolarek from Croatia, both players were ranked inside the top 180 in the World. As this was only my second Pro Tour and it was considerably stronger than my first to say we were up against it was an understatement. The experience was a great one and I’m glad that I played. The only thing on paper that I took home was winning a set in a 4-1 loss against Ionescu however being amongst the top players and getting some top quality match practise in can only be of benefit. Notably, Ashley lost 11-9 in the 6th set against a Korean that is ranked in the top 20 U21’s in the World. This was an exciting match and unfortunate that he couldn’t go one step further and get a victory but, it was something that really showed his improvement and ability to compete at the highest level. All in all, the German Open was an extremely enjoyable tournament to be a part of and what we’ve taken from it will hopefully stand to us in the coming months leading up to bigger and more important events as a National Team.

Directly after the German Open I flew home to Ireland to play in what is probably after the nationals, my favourite event of the year, The Senior Interprovincial Championships for Leinster. Unfortunately due to the schedule at the German Open I had to miss Friday night’s match against Connaught however, Leinster thankfully came through without me. After a Saturday morning win against Munster we were all set for a deciding game against Ulster, the same as it has been in the last number of years. I have felt, each year we were getting closer and closer to claiming a scalp against the Ulster team who have been so dominant at the interpros. As the match progressed, I put my two singles points on the board early with our girls unfortunately losing theirs. Eventually Ulster were leading 5-4 with Sam Logue on to face Daryl Strong to try and take us to a deciding doubles or give Ulster another title to their name. In a nail-biting match Sam came through against Daryl 3-0 but it was a lot closer than the score line suggests. Myself and Ryan Farrell were pitted in the doubles against Peter Graham and Daryl. This was my first taste of a deciding doubles at an interpros and I was up for it, I felt we had a great chance once myself and Ryan didn’t let the occasion get the better of us, and we definitely didn’t. It was one to remember, and I am told it was a thrilling encounter to watch, we ran out 3-1 winners in an epic matchup. Unfortunately this was the only match that we did not get on video, which was a disappointment as it would have been a nice one to look back on through the years. I am delighted with the result as was the rest of the team, but I can’t praise the Ulster team enough they have dominated for years, even without some of their best players and I’m sure next year they will be out in force to reclaim the interpros.

                The final weeks leading up to the World Championships have been extremely exciting. It’s a long time since I’ve been able to say I’m excited by the prospect of a tournament rather than just looking forward to it but this year there’s a different feeling surrounding the World Championships, we’re prepared, we’re ready and we’ve got a chance. Training before the event has been very match orientated with a lot of exercises based around serve, serve receive and first attack. Myself and Ashley have done quite a lot of multi ball with the Chilean coach in our centre which has been of huge benefit. Our half long attack has improved steadily which gives us an opportunity to attack when others may not. I would also say we are both reacting quicker and moving quicker to the ball as a result of multi ball and the speed at which it is done. As added preparation for the Worlds the ITTA along with the Ulster branch is sending the Worlds team along with the players from the Commonwealth long list to the Luxembourg Open in order to get some vital match practise. If you remember the last World Team Championships in Dortmund 2 years ago, you will remember that we stayed in division 3 by the skin of our teeth with some epic battles in the relegation clashes, the most memorable being against U.A.E when Paul McCreery beat Rashid Omar, a man that had been 4-2 with Wang Hao a year previous to Dortmund. This year the draw is a very open one, we could potentially win the group or come last in the group, we’ve been drawn against; New Zealand, Mexico, Guatemala, Latvia and Kuwait. I strongly believe that with 2 years of preparation that myself and Ashley have put in since the event in Dortmund along with Paul’s training in England and the added dimension of Ryan Farrell this year we will be in a much stronger position to compete at the higher end of our division. I hope you will all get behind the team and follow our results.

                The next blog I write will probably be after the World Championships has concluded, my league season has concluded and the season itself has concluded. So it will probably be a reaction to the events along with my plans for the ‘off-season’ in Ireland. I will be helping the Northern Irish team in their preparation for the Commonwealth games so I’m sure any break I take won’t last for too long.  As always, if there is anything you would like to see included in the next blog just comment below.