Following the thills and spills of the Junior Championships just a few weeks previous, it was time for the Seniors to take centre stage on Friday and Saturday 18/19 March, as the National Basketball Arena played host to the 2016 edition of the Butterfly Irish Senior National Championships.
As ever, all eyes were fixed on the Men’s and Ladies Singles events where the big guns were out in force, all bidding to take home the prestigious National titles.
Leading the pack in the mens event was top seed and 2009 champion Gavin Maguire. However, he was always going to be closely pursued by International teammates Ashley Robinson and 3 time Champion Paul McCreery.
As the event reached the latter stages, the seeds remained unscathed. In the top half of the draw, Maguire was in fine form throughout, seeing off the challenges of Artur Lewanczuk and Dylan Grace to set up a semi final showdown with McCreery. The Nottingham University student made his way to the penultimate round by overcoming France based Alexander Gillen before accounting for Tom Davis.
The semi final promised to be a thriller, as two heavy weights Irish Table Tennis squared off for a place in the final. McCreery, who hadn’t lost a match in the Nationals since 2012, provided the sternest possible test of the top seeds credentials.
As it turned out, it was an examination that Maguire relished as the Dubliner battled out a topsy turvy contest by the tightest of margins, as he eventually crossed the line after 7 gruelling sets.
On the bottom half, second seed Robinson was sailing through the draw, beating Daryl Strong and Alan Walsh to book his place in the semis. Facing him would be the winner of perhaps the pick of the quarter finals, as Sweden based Ryan Farrell and Junior National Champion Zak Wilson faced off. It was to be Wilson who would progress in the end, as a typical tough display saw the Belfast youngster through.
That was as far as Wilson would go. He had no answers for his more Senior opponent in the semi final as a dominant Robinson didn’t give an inch as he booked his place in the final with a 4-0 win.
The stage was set for a cracking encounter in the final as the two on form players, Maguire and Robinson, faced off for the right to be crowned National Champion.
Both men didn’t disappoint. Maguire got off to a fast start, racing to a 2-0 lead. Robinson wouldn’t let go there though as he came racing back. The Leinster man then went 3-2 ahead and had his chances to close the match out in the 6th, but Robinson put up a stubborn resistance – this one was going the distance!
More breathless play ensued at the start of the 7th, as Ashley raced to a 7-1 lead, but Gavin who recovered from similar deficits when he won his sole National title in 2009, wasn’t fazed as he battled back. With the score at 9-9 it was very much anyones game. Ashley had his chances at 10-9 and 11-10, but Gavin stood strong before eventually taking his own match point at the first time of asking. What a match!
Gavin Maguire is now a 2 time National Champion and in his own words, this time he really earned it!!
If the mens was anything to go by, the womens singles had something serious to live up to. However, with the likes of top seed Katie McGlone, past winners Ashley Givan and Emma Ludlow and the in form youngsters Rebecca Finn, Mia O’Rahilly Egan and Chloe O’Halloran, it was always an event that promised an awful lot.
Despite being seeded in a lowly position, defending champion Ashley Givan was one to watch as soon as the draw was published. The Queens student, still only 20 years old, is something of a past master at this event having claimed the prestigious title on 4 previous occasions.
Right from the off, the Ormeau TTC player showed she meant business. She sailed to the quarter finals before overcoming the challenge of fellow Ulster player Rebecca Finn. This set up a semi final with possibly the most in form player in the draw, as double Junior National Champion Mia O’Rahilly Egan stood in her way. Despite putting up stern resistance for the first 4 sets, Mia couldn’t quite stay with the defending champion in the end, as Ashley booked her place in the final following a 4-2 success.
On the top half of the draw, Marta Zareba was the one to cause the biggest stir. The Dundrum TTC lady, a double National champion in both the Ladies and Mixed Doubles in 2015, overcame Munsters top player Chloe O’Halloran in an epic battle, 4-2.
This meant that she would face top seed Katie McGlone in the penultimate round. Katie had come through with relative ease until this point, brushing past the tricky Zofia Wawrzyniak in the quarter final.
In the semis McGlone asserted herself once more, not allowing Marta to build up the confidence which she showed in her quarter final. In the end Katie ran out a 4-1 winner, setting up a final date with Givan.
The final was a repeat of 2015, where Ashley came through by a 4-1 scoreline. However this year the match was set up promising big things. Top seed versus defending champion, it doesn’t get much better!
It was Ashley that started brighter though, showing poise and experience at key stages to open up a 3-0 set lead. Katie then pulled one back, threatening a potential comeback. Ashley wasn’t having it though, as she put her foot down firmly on the gas to ensure that she wouldn’t let her chance go. She went on to take the 5th set, sealing the match by a 4-1 scoreline and with it, claiming her fifth National title!
What an achievement by the Ulster player!
Under 21 events
In the Under 21 mens singles, there was no stopping the in form Zak Wilson as he raced to victory. He overcame Alex Gillen in the semi final before getting the better of Tom Davis in the final by 3 games to 1. Davis put Alan Walsh’s run to a stop in the semis, after the Ballincollig man produced a major ipset by beating top seed Ryan Farrell in the quarters.
In the Under 21 Ladies singles, Mia O’Rahilly Egan capped off her astonishing season in style by beating number 1 ranked senior Katie McGlone in an epic 5 set final.
In the Men’s Wheelchair singles, defending champin Colin Jundge reclaimed his crown, overcoming old rival Greg Keogh on his way to victory.
On the ladies side, Rio bound Rena McCarron Rooney was unstoppable, as she got the better of International teammate Christine Doyle in the final.
In the wheelchair doubles event, Judge and Keogh paired up to overcome their female counterparts, and with it, Jundge became a double national champion for 2016!
The finalist in the singles, Gavin Maguire and Ashley Robinson, were unstoppable as they retained their National mens doubles title. In the final they beat 2nd seeds, Paul McCreery and Ryan Farrell in straight sets.
On the Ladies side, the young duo of Mia O’Rahilly Egan and Zofia Wawrzyniak picked up their first senior national title as they got the better of Marta Zareba and Natalia Rajska in the final.
The mixed doubles went very much to the script. Top seeds Paul McCreery and Katie McGlone were imperious as they stormed to the title. In the final they beat Conor Mullally and Mia O’Rahilly Egan in convincing fashion 3-0.
The veterans singles was won by UK based Rory Scott, who picked up his first title as a veterean player. He was flawless thoughout, before getting the better of the ever tough competitor, Brian Devereux in a tight final 3-2.