New Blog:50 years in Table Tennis


Recently I was asked to write an occasional blog for Table Tennis Irealand, and immediately I had a few thoughts.  The first was that I would love to do it.  Next I wondered if anyone would actually read it, given that some of the younger players probably don’t even know who I am, as I don’t play many Open events now.  Lastly, I decided that I would give it a go, but if I don’t get any feedback, comments, or “likes”, this will be my first and last blog!

Why me? A good question – after all I’ve never played for Ireland, never got a senior interpro cap (though I may have been close a couple of times), and probably those two ambitions are beyond me now at the age of 63. Memo to selectors – I’m still available! I suppose I’ve had such enjoyment and fulfilment out of the sport that I love, and perhaps I have some wisdom – and hopefully some wit – to pass on.

So where did it all begin?  Apparently in the summer-house of a large guesthouse in Greystones, Co Wicklow, when I was on a family holiday at about age 5.  My dad played a little, with pen-hold grip, and he told me years later that that was when I first had a bat in my hand.  I say “bat”, we are talking about a dilapidated Barna-type hard bat with the rubbers hanging off.

My interest was re-kindled at about 12, we played in the Art Room of Grosvenor High in Belfast putting three tables together and using books as nets.  Amazing ricochets happened when the ball hit the crack where two tables joined, but there were no “lets” in these games!  Around the same time I joined 24th Boys Brigade in Bloomfield Presbyterian.  They had an actual proper table, and a team which played against other BB companies.  This was my first introduction to competition.

By then I was playing with a proper Barna bat, I had never been coached, I knew nothing of tactics or techniques, I knew I could win points with a back-hand drive/kill/flick.  Years later I was foolish enough to describe my back-hand to the revered coach Colin Senior as my Barna back-hand.  He looked at me pityingly and just said “don’t ever say that again.  Victor Barna would turn in his grave if he heard you describe that shot in that way”.

A school friend brought me to Mountpottinger YMCA, home of many international players.  I had never seen a proper club, I was not put off by the fact that my friend said that we were not good enough to get into their bottom team, I went with the attitude “I’ll show them”.  I can still remember walking in and seeing two internationals Carroll McBride and Jean Johnston knocking up.  I immediately realised that I was little more than a beginner.  I went to a sports’ store – no internet then – and invested £2 in the “Johnny Leach Japanese Wonder-bat, the antidote to all spin”.  This was the answer!  Possibly if Johnny Leach himself had used it, the results might have been spectacular, but not for me.

I played in a few boys’ tournaments, with general lack of success.  I scraped onto the Ulster Schools team in 1968, playing in the old Crofton Club in Dublin against a very strong Leinster team which included Tony Langan.  We lost that match 8-1, but at least I had the consolation of sharing in our sole victory, in the doubles. A highlight of that day was coming back on my own on the Enterprise train (Child Protection?!), being met at the station at 7.45, getting changed in the car on the way to school, and arriving just in time to walk onstage as Claudio in “Much Ado About Nothing”!

Although I was not ranked in the top four in Ulster U-17 level, I managed to win one boys’ tournament, the County Antrim Open, when it was held in Ballymena Town Hall.  I beat future full international Jimmy Wilson in the semi-final, and the talented Errol Wilson in the final, recovering from a game and 9-13 down. The local weekly paper gave the tournament a full page, my victory was dealt with at some length (I still have the cutting), it described Errol as one of Ulster’s most promising juniors, said I was not normally in the same class, and dismissed my victory as Errol being overawed by the hall filling with spectators.  Afterwards I was euphoric, an Irish International headed over to us both, ignored me totally, put his arm round Errol, and told him that he had played well.  Many years later when we were on a trip to England together, I reminded Tommy Caffrey of this, he denied any recollection of “blanking” me that night! Tommy – some things are embedded deep in the memory!

So that was the end of a fairly undistinguished “career” in boys’ events.  What happened next?  You’ll need to wait to find out, and if you don’t respond i