Munster Masters Open 2024 – Report

The first event of 2024 was held in Palmerston on 6 January with a total entry of 97 across the 5 events, marginally more than Leinster. We had some withdrawals, mainly from illness/injury, including Messrs Burke, Caffrey, and Finn. Kieran would have been making his 70s debut. Oleg also withdrew, which left a gap in the 40s seedings. The number of competitors was 13 ladies, 18 40s, 25 50s, 28 60s, and 13 70s.

Generally it wasn’t a good day for No.1 seeds. Susan is ranked 1 in the Ladies. She came safely through to the semis but ran into the unseeded Rita, who had missed the first 3 events. Rita had beaten Sharon 8 4 5, and then dropped a game before beating Susan 7 -8 6 8.

In the bottom half Anne Marie beat Catherine Morrissey 5 8 8, but then Ger beat her in 3 close games 7 10 13.

Rita won her first event of the season, beating Ger in a high quality match 10 9 7.

The 40s was one of several occasions during the day when players met twice with the results being reversed second time around. Rory’s “reward” for winning group A in the absence of Oleg was to go straight to Daryl who had lost in his group to Artur. Daryl won 3-1, with the 3rd game crucial, 6 -8 11 4. Rita made her way to the semi with a win over Rod 9 8 7, but Daryl was victorious against her 8 4 9.

2nd seed “fast Phil” lived dangerously in the last 8 against Pat who had come through 3-1 against Tibor. Pat won the first 2 games, the 3rd was 9, and then Pat led 10-8 in the 5th. Scores were -9 -8 9 5 10. Artur had a surprisingly comfortable win over Eduardo who was playing his first Masters event of the season, 3 5 6. In the semi-final, Artur  beat Phil 7 10 7. Phil’s consolation is that he is now ranked 1 in the 40s (and also the Ulster 40s for good measure).

In the first of the day’s reverses however, Daryl beat Artur 3 9 5. After losing in the group Daryl was always in control in the final and imposed his game on Artur throughout.

Moving on to the 50s, top seed was Pat who reached the semi with a straight sets win over Rod, who had beaten him in the 40s, the scores were 8 7 5. This was a half totally dominated by Ulster players, with considerable local rivalry and “bragging rights”! Rod had beaten Mark 3-0, Des dropped a game to Gus and another to travelling companion Sean who he beat 5 10 -7 6. Pat reached the final by beating Des -6 5 7 7.

In the bottom half Daryl reached the semi with an unusually comprehensive win over Philip Shaw. Philip is so unorthodox and normally troubles Daryl, but this time it was 2 7 5. Philip had squeezed through in the last 8 against Fergal O’Hagan 5 -10 -10 4 9. Tibor’s route to the semi was a 3-1 victory over Dave Gibbons and a recovery from a 2-1 deficit against Dave Pender (good to see you back Dave) with the scores 2 -8-8 8 4. Tibor nearly always raises his game whenever he plays Daryl, who was relieved to win the second game at deuce after losing the first, scores were -7 10 6 6.

The final was a classic. Pat played superbly, Daryl struggled to put the ball past him, Pat can be vulnerable on his backhand but he was as steady as a rock. The first 4 games were shared, at the start of the fifth it was hard to pick a winner. It’s been said before (possibly by me!) that Daryl always finds a way. When Pat led 4-2 it looked as if this might be the exception. The next 3 points were absolutely game-changing. Pat’s return of serve had been almost perfect, Daryl caught him with 2 serves, and then Pat served off. Change ends 5-4. The momentum had swung, Daryl literally made no mistakes and a 4-2 deficit became an 11-4 victory. Scores were 6 -8 7 -9 4. The very difficult double of 40s and 50s had been achieved, at almost 1030pm – another record!

On the other hand, the 60s is becoming a procession. Des has won all 4 events so far, and has rarely looked troubled. Top seed obviously, he beat Kariem 8 4 7 and Sean 3 2 7 to win through to the final. In the bottom half Gus Agnew was the surprise package. Playing in his first 60s event, he won his group with a win over Kariem, then beat Breandan O’Fiaich in 5 games, -11 8 -8 6 6, Breandan had a good day and had put out Jim Storey. Philip beat Tommy Fitzgerald in 5 and Barry Dickson in 3 deuce games 10 10 10, before ending Gus’ day in the semi 4 8 5.

Des lost the first game of the final to Philip but was relatively untroubled after that, winning  -6 5 9 8.

The last event was the 70s, again a bad day for the top seed, this time Norman. Jim Storey got better as the day went on, and was a deserved but close winner over Norman in the last 8, coming from 2 games down and a deuce in the fourth. His renowned forehand rarely missed and his backhand was consistent. The scores were -5 -16 9 10 8. Ken Peare was his next “victim” and Jim won 6 9 7. In the bottom half Jeremy beat David Jacobson 8 7 3, and Barry Dickson beat Jack O’Meara 8 5 6. Matches between Jeremy and Barry are inevitably 5 games, frequently deuce, but not this time. Jeremy played a more controlled game than his usual, and won 9 10 7.

The final ebbed and flowed. Jeremy and Jim had met in the group with Jeremy coming out on top. Jim took a 2-set lead, Jeremy won the next 2, Jim had a lead in the 5th, Jeremy fought back to 8-8 and looked favourite. Unusually Jim then played a more cautious game and won 3 of the last 4 points, scores were 6 7 -7 -7 9. Jim was buzzing, saying it was the first 70s title he had won.

Next event in this travelling “circus” is the St. Anne’s Ulster Masters at Dungannon on 17 February This was excellently run last year by “Rod’s motley crew”, make sure you get your entries in as soon as the forms are out. Book early to avoid disappointment, as they say.

And finally, we always appreciate the stalwarts at the top table, most of whom combine their duties with playing. Thanks to Dave and Sharon, Ger, Anne Marie and especially Lorraine.