Munster Open 2015: Report

Tony Higgins reports…

Cork’s Northside welcomed back the Munster Open, but to a new venue just a mile from its old home in Gurranebraher. Until this weekend, Neptune Stadium was most famous for Basketball, but if the Munster Open 2015 is anything to go by, table tennis could be back again!

Full results and slideshow available here.

Senior Winners

Despite the inclement weather, play got under way before 6 o’clock, and with 20 tables the Group stages of the Senior Singles went without a hitch. The withdrawal on the eve of the tournament of Irish No. 1 and fifth seed Vladislavs Agurianovs opened the door for some new blood in the quarter finals, and Charlie Fitzgerald (U.C.D.) stepped up to the plate with a win over team-mate Conor Gallagher. But with such high quality in the field, it was going to be very tough to progress further, and top Scot Gavin Rumgay was waiting for him in Saturday’s quarter finals. Eighth and ninth seeds John Murphy and Ryan Farrell battled it out in the last-16, and it was a triumph of youth over experience that earned Ryan a duel with his namesake, the Welsh Wizard Ryan Jenkins.

The senior singles were played to the quarters in the men’s and the semis in the ladies’ before attention turned to the doubles. Munster’s Alan Walsh partnered Darius Knight and they overcame Robinson & Maguire in the semi-final to earn a shot at the top seeds Jenkins & Maguire, and in the ladies’ the seedings turned out to be spot on, with Carey & McGlone (Katie) against Timlin (Sarah) & Lynch-Dawson on the card for the staged finals.

On Saturday, an early start in frosty conditions did not keep people away, and the Cadets started promptly. Owen Cathcart beat Dylan Grace in the final, despite losing the opening set, and Kate Whelan lived up to her seeding with a win in the Girls’. There was great excitement in the Hopes event, great to watch from the balcony, with beginners mixing it with very experienced players who would also shine in the older age groups tomorrow. Both Hopes events saw Leeside players on top at the end, Adam Buckley and Silke Heinen.

The Welsh duo of Jody Bevington and Dave Wetherill proved formidable combatants in the Class II singles, and only Mark White saved the home fans’ disappointment with a 3-1 win over Dave in the final. A well-earned title for Mark and his ever-present coach Conn Higgins, who started his table tennis career just up the road from Neptune!

In the doubles, there were wins for Maguire & Carey in the Mixed, and both Men’s and Ladies’ titles went to the top seeds, Jenkins & Murphy and Carey & McGlone.

In the warm-up to the staged finals, we were again treated to the spectacle of four simultaneous Men’s Quarter Finals, an idea hatched last year by John Murphy. First up were the two Ryans. Jenkins, a previous winner of this event, wasn’t going to slip up and eased past Ryan the Younger to set up a meeting with Gavin Maguire. Gavin had a huge win over top seed Miroslav Horejsi in his quarter, all the way to deuce in the fifth set, only to lose in straight sets against Jenkins. Ashley Robinson put up a great fight against the mercurial Darius Knight, taking the match all the way. But Darius was unstoppable, and after his close encounter with Ashley, upped his game to win 3-1 against Rumgay (who was too strong for a brave Charlie Fitzgerald) and then won a pulsating final against Jenkins by the same margin.

In the ladies’ event, there were Welsh players at top and bottom of the draws, defending champion Charlotte Carey had a tough semi- against Katie McGlone, but upped her game in the final to beat Hannah Lynch Dawson in straight sets (and in doing so, Charlotte completed her treble of titles). Hannah had to overcome old rival and local favourite Chloe O’Halloran and number two seed (last year’s beaten finalist) Cherith Graham on her way to the final.

Day three, and this time the weather was a minor factor, with some players unable to travel and a number missing through illness. The Junior Girls’ was fairly predictable, just Zofia Wawrzniak sneaking into the quarter finals outside the top seeds, and the final saw Katie McGlone beating Chloe O’Halloran. No surprise to see Zak Wilson meeting Brian Dunleavy in the Boys’ event, either. 3-0 to Zak.

Art McLaughlin reportedly wanted to train on Christmas Day, and his dedication was enough to see him reach the Cadet’s final, a five-setter against favourite Thomas Joyce in the semi-final. Dillon Byrne also had a good win in his match against David Taylor, so the final was all Donic, with Art beating his friend 3-1. Mia O’Rahilly-Egan came third in Saturday’s Under-15s, so it was no surprise to see that no-one could touch her in the younger age group, with Natasya Barry the best of the rest.

The last titles to be claimed were the under-21s, with Kerry O’Mahony beating Claire Heller in the Ladies to take another title for Munster. The Men’s final was a carbon copy of the Junior Boys’. At the other end of the spectrum, perennial Philip Shaw won the Veteran’s event.

Another great Munster Open tournament for players and spectators, a new venue which was well up to the task, and a new Men’s Singles Champion to join Charlotte Carey on the winners platform. Highlights of the weekend? On the table, Gavin’s great win against Miroslav in the men’s quarters, and some great sportsmanship shown by many players, not least Shane O’Connor, Donie Mullally and Gavin Rumgay. Off the table? Maybe the pizza delivered to the top table by John Murphy and Mark O’Flynn before they left… Thanks lads!

Thanks to all who helped in the running of the event, at Top Table, in the canteen and behind the scenes. Con (our referee) was tireless, and ably assisted by his colleagues Joe, Cecilia and Tom. The staff of Neptune Stadium (the two Pauls) went out of their way to make us feel at home. The support of our sponsors and donors is much appreciated.

Tony Higgins