It was always going to require a monumental effort from our men’s team and despite the many positives, relegation from the Challenge division was the outcome following a gruelling 4 days in Russia.
Promoted to the heights of the 2nd tier of European Table Tennis prior to the event, Ekateringburg presented the Irish mens team of Gavin Maguire, Paul McCreery and Ashley Robinson (led by NPC John Murphy) with a unique opportunity to retain their place in the division and with it, secure a place in the European League.
The Irish started their campaign on Friday 25th, with matches against Turkey and Norway ahead of them on the opening days play.
Turkey were first up and despite encouraging performances from all 3 players, our boys went down 3-0 against a quality European outfit. Later in the evening was the group meeting with Norway. Here was perhaps the highlight of the tournament for the boys, who stormed to a 3-0 win against a strong Table Tennis nation. Ashley Robinson was the star man here, using his razor sharp serve/receive and half-long attack to get the better of No1 player Espen Ronneberg by a 3-2 scoreline – excellent work against a much higher ranked opponent.
The final group match took place on Saturday morning as the boys went down 3-0 against a quality Slovak team. Gavin Maguire noted afterwards that it was probably the best team our men had played against in a major championship. Despite this, Paul McCreery had chances at No3 against Thomas Keineth, but the experienced German born player was a bit too strong in the end, taking the match 3-1.
Next up was a date with Finland on Sunday, and having finished 3rd in the group to get a slightly more favourable match, this one was huge. With No1 player Benedek Olah in their ranks, it was always going to be a massive challenge however and so it proved as we went down 1-3 – with Gavin Maguire taking the solitary win for the Irish at the number 3 position. A massive turning point here came in the 2nd match, as Paul McCreery went down 11-9 in the 5th to the Finnish No2 player.
This left the Irish men in a battle for 29-32 positions. Only back to back wins now would ensure survival in the Challenge division. The first of these two matches was against old rivals Estonia. Coach Murphy tweeted before this one saying that the boys needed a big performance, and it must be said that he certainly got what he asked from his team.
Despite finding themselves clinging on after losing the opening 2 rubbers by the tightest of margins, Ashley led a resurgent Irish charge with victory over the defensive skills of Alexsander Lushin. Paul then produced a huge performance to defeat the highly rated Smirnov in 5 sets. This left Gavin Maguire in the pressure cooker against the ice cool Vallot Vainula. Despite a fine performance, Gav couldn’t quite complete the comeback as he went down in 5 sets, meaning the men had to settle for a place in the Standard Division next time around.
Positives were gained later in the day however, as the boys managed to regroup to beat Norway once again, this time by a 3-2 scoreline, to finish the tournament with a victory. Gavin made the difference here, as his 2 wins on top of Ashleys win at No3 were enough to seal victory.
Overall, there were many positives despite the disappointment for our young mens team at this years European Championships. To come within striking distance of returning to European League is a measure of the level our guys are at.
They are an example to us all and there is no doubt they will be back again!