For the first time since 2013 the Championships returned to Ireland, the venue on this occasion was the magnificent National Indoor Arena, Blanchardstown. The event has grown considerably in size since inception in Scotland in 1997 when the only events were over-40s and it was known as the quadrangulars. Now we have 7 teams and 16 individual events, as well as consolation matches. As the home nation team Ireland were entitled to enter “B” teams and the thrill at this honour from some of the “lesser” players was heartwarming.
These started on Friday morning and continued over 7 gruelling sessions until lunchtime Saturday. There was a shock in the “blue riband” event, the men’s 40s, with the Ireland team winning gold. Daryl Strong led the team brilliantly, remaining undefeated in singles, and was excellently supported by Phil Wallace and Rory Scott. Rory won a crucial singles against England, while Phil partnered Daryl to win doubles against Scotland when the match was delicately poised at 1-1.
The equivalent ladies’ team of Rita Kacsandi, Susan Hanlon, and Paula O’Neill were not quite able to emulate their male counterparts, but finished a very good second with an excellent win over England B.
Moving on to the 50s, both the men’s and women’s teams finished third. The men’s team which consisted of the following players; Tibor Pofok, Pat McCloughan, and Lucsi Adler, and they ran Scotland very close before losing 3-2, with both the doubles and Tibor’s first singles going to 5 games.
Team Ireland ladies, Ger Greene, Anne Marie Nugent, and Sharon Brien Gibbons, lost to two strong English teams but were victorious against the other nations, and Ger had a singles win against both English teams.
The 60s is a mixed event with a different format, and the Irish team of Sean McAnaney, Philip Shaw, Des Flanagan, and Ikuko McMahon excelled in coming second. Other than a comprehensive defeat by England, the only occasion where more than 1 match was dropped was a 5-2 victory against a very spirited B team of Terry Dolan, Tommy Fitzgerald, Dave Pender, and Teresa Egan.
The 70s team consisted of the following players; Tommy Caffrey, Shay O’Reilly, and Norman Nabney. They came third which basically was as expected, the crucial match was a 3-2 defeat against Wales. The final match against Guernsey was noteworthy as it was Tommy’s 100th veteran cap, to accompany his 151 senior caps – a genuine legend, and a record which will surely never be surpassed.
The 75s team also finished third. The team was Ken Peare, David Jacobsen, and Albert Coulter. The first match was a baptism of fire, a 4-1 win over Scotland, but all 5 matches went to 5 games. There were 7 deuces including a 17-15! As with the 70s, Wales was a tight 3-2 defeat.
After a short break the doubles was held on Saturday afternoon. The scratch pairing of Rod McKirgan and Robbie Gavin reached the 40s semi, as did Rory with his English partner Matt Spero. In the final Daryl and Phil found the English pairing of Jason Ramage and Andy Wilkinson too powerful.
No such worries for Rita and Susan in the 40s ladies. They won the event dropping just one game, to the other Irish pairing of Paula and Sharon.
The 50s men produced an Irish gold, an Irish silver, and a thrilling match in which Pat and Tibor beat Mark McAllister and Scot David Simpson, winning from a deficit of 7-9 in the 5th.
Ger and Anne Marie reached the semi of the 50s ladies.
Sean and Des lost in the 60s semi, while Ikuko and Teresa were third in the ladies’ round-robin.
Another gold came for Ireland in the men’s 70s. Tommy has always said he prefers to play with a left-hander – who can ever forget his fabulous partnership with Jim Langan? – and he and Jim Storey combined superbly to defeat the top Welsh pairing in the final.
Despite tired limbs – and possibly sore heads from Saturday night celebrations – this event was as competitive as the rest of the weekend had been.
Rory and Phil were team Irelands main competitors in the men’s 40s, they each fought through as far as the semi but were unable to progress further.
In the equivalent ladies’ event Rita also made it to the semi before succumbing.
The men’s 50s was one of the highlights and “might have been” for the Irish. Tibor made it as far as the semi. The final between Daryl and Jason Ramage was a classic. Despite losing a marathon first game 14-16, Daryl won the next two 11-8 11-3. In a match abounding with attack, counter-attack, and incredible retrieving, Jason won the fourth 11-5 and opened up a large lead in the fifth. When Daryl was 4-10 down it looked all over. Daryl took the next four points, an appreciative – and understandably partisan – crowd held their breaths, wondered, but Jason just got over the line.
Anne Marie did well to reach the semi of the 50s ladies.
Sean had been Ireland’s most successful player in the 60s team event and he carried his good play through to the individual competition. He survived a gruelling 5-game last 8 encounter before losing his semi-final in 4 games.
Similarly Ger came through to the ladies’ semi before losing in 4 close games.
On to the 70s men and Norman survived a tough group match with Jim Storey and then reached the semi, where he exited in 3 games.
And so to the 75s. Local hopes rested with Tommy, and he didn’t let team Ireland down. He went through to the final, but lost in 5 games to Stewart Seaholme who played a patient controlled game throughout, only attacking when he was sure of a winner or had an obvious advantage.
This is sometimes derided – Albert Coulter described it as an event to find “the best of the worst”, but that is a little unfair and these matches are always fiercely contested. There were 4 Irish medals won, winners were Susan in the ladies’ 40s, Mark McAlister in men’s 50s, and the aforementioned Albert in the men’s 75s – despite his dismissal of the importance he wore his medal with pride! Gus Agnew was runner-up in the men’s 50s
Most of teams gathered in the Crowne Plaza on Saturday night – there had been almost 120 players and a large number of officials, and it was great to unwind with friends old and new, opponents, and team-mates. After the excellent meal and presentation of trophies, the Irish began a singing session – and why not? Kathleen Copeland started us off beautifully, and then Gus Agnew led us in several – mainly Irish – classics. It was hard to believe that we still had the singles to follow on Sunday.
This event could not have happened without all the volunteers and helpers who undoubtedly went over and above what could have been expected of them. It is always dangerous to name names as someone may be left out, but we were supported by umpires, “top table” people, referees, bag-packers – I believe that several hours were spent gathering together the contents of the goodie bags given to all players, and those who were simply on the spot ready to assist in any way when called upon. From a player’s perspective the organisation was second to none and many of us have expressed our gratitude to those who ensured that the competition ran smoothly.
So over to you Guernsey September 2024.
Report by NORMAN NABNEY