Success all round as Irish produce medal haul in Limerick

The eagerly anticipated 2016 Senior Schools International has been and gone – and what an event it proved to be as over 200 players/officials came together and locked horns over three tantilising days of Table Tennis. 

The annual tournament returned to our shores for the first time since 2010, and once again, The University of Limerick played host to the Bord Failte supported event. 

With 25 courts set out by Friday lunchtime, all was in place to kick off another memorable showpiece event for Irish Table Tennis in the excellent UL Arena. 

Team Event

First up on Friday evening was the start of the Team Competitions. Of the 12 Irish teams in action across the 6 categories, the home sides were very much in the mix as the competition reached the latter stages on Saturday afternoon. 

On the boys side, the U14 A team of Conor Nugent and Art McLaughlin impressed, as they reached the semi final before going down to a strong Scotland A team. However, the boys showed real quality to take a bronze medal as they overcame England B for 3rd place. 

The U16 A team of Dylan Grace and Zak Earley were equally impressive. Having negotiated their way through their group and into the semis, their impressive run was halted by a strong England A. However, the boys put in an excellent performance to defeat Scotland A to claim bronze. This included 2 outstanding wins for the ever improving Grace, in particular his success over Scottish number 1 Callum Morrison.

The Under 18 Boys of Zak Wilson, Alan Walsh and Charlie Fitzgerald were in the thick of the battle all day. After sealing top spot in the group after a hard fought 3-2 win over England A, the boys faced England B in the semis. This was to be another epic. Despite 2 wins from the undefeated Zak, we were into a deciding match as Charlie faced Chan. He delivered to put the boys into the final. 

In the final, the boys faced England A once again, and like earlier, it was to go the distance. Again, Zak led from the front to take his 2 singles. However, a loss for Charlie against number 1 Bennett and a doubles loss for Zak and Alan meant that Charlie was once again in the hot seat as he faced young English Internation James Smith in the pressure cooker final match. In an amazing match, Charlie produced some of his best Table Tennis to seal the gold medal for the Irish after an energy sapping 5 set match up.

On the girls side, there was more success. The Under 14s showed huge promise, as both teams reached the semi finals where they would end up facing eachother! In the end, despite a great performance by Sophie Early to pick up 1 singles win, the A team of Natasya Barry and Silke Heinen proved a bit too strong on the day as they ran out 3-1 winners. 

In the final, the girls battled hard but just fell short to a strong English team. However, there was good news as to add to this Silver medal, the B team of Lucy Craig and Sophie produced the goods to win the 3/4 playoff and take the bronze.

There was another Silver medal in the girls team event, this time in the U18s, as the Munster duo of Chloe O’Halloran and Mair Kelly produced a string of accomplished performances to take 2nd place in an extremely competitve event. 

Later, Gold struck once more, as the Under 16 Girls team off Katie McGlone and Mia O’Rahilly Egan brushed all aside in convincing fashion to win the event outright. In the final they were tested, as Mia went down to the English number 1. However, Katie led from the front to take 2 singles wins as well as a doubles win with Mia to steer the girls to gold.

Singles Sunday

On Sunday, the Singles events kicked into action as the 6 categories started with players aiming to take home the sought after Individual titles. 

There were 5 medals in total in the main events for the Irish. In the U14 Girls, Mia O’Rahilly Egan and Lucy Craig reached the semi finals before losing out to the top English girls – however this was enough for the girls to take bronze medal positions.

In the  U18 Boys, Zak Wilson was aiming to continue his impressive form having gone unbeaten in the team event. In the singles he was looking strong, as he brushed aside Smith (ENG) and Hobson (ENG) to seal a semi final spot. This was where his run would end though, as he couldn’t quite get to grips with the Welsh Number 1 Callum Evans who ran out a 3-1 winner. Zak had to settle for bronze. 

This left 2 players in the draw for Irish hopes to rest on.- Katie McGlone and Owen Cathcart, both fighting to take home their respective U16 titles. 

Katie, following on from her Gold in Saturdays team event, was a class apart, as she brushed all aside to take her place in the medal positions. She was however made to fight to book her final place, as she was pushed all the way against the dangerous Menghistab (ENG). Keeping with her story of the weekend though, the Dubliner showed her resilience in tight situations to hold firm and take the match 11-8 in the deciding set. 

In the final, Katie was up against another English player, Sophie Barlow. With pressure on her shoulders, Katie responded to take the final in 3 tight sets and with it, the gold medal – defending the title she won 12 months ago. What an achievement!

Owen meanwhile, was making his way through the U16 Boys in similar fashion. However, the semi final was to be a match that we expect anyone who was in UL on Sunday will not be forgetting any time soon. 

His opponent was Scottish number 1 Callum Morrison. The Scot was in inspired form, taking a 2-0 lead and having Owen on the rack. The top seed battled to take the 3rd, however Morrison kept up the heat as he raced to an 8-0 lead in the 4th. Owen showed great fight to make it 8-4 but Morrisson then played some great Table Tennis to go 10-4 ahead – 6 match points. Owen then threw caution to the wind as he launched more attacks towards the Scot. Amazingly, he pulled it back to 10-10 before eventually closing the set out 15-13.

The decider was one way traffic, as the Ormeau TTC boy ran away, taking the set 11-4 to clinch victory, having once been hanging from the jaws of defeat!

In the final, Owen faced English No1 Matthew Leete. Again, this one went the distance, however there was a feeling of calm on this occasion as the Ulster player always looked in control. He went on to take the 5th set 11-3 and with it the gold Medal.