A Para Development Squad travelled to Malmo, Sweden, last weekend to represent TTI in the annual Malmo Paralympic Open Competition. The squad was one of the largest in recent years with 12 players from all three Paralympic classes and three provinces represented. Indeed the Irish squad was the largest single group of players among the 8 countries, 40 clubs, and 124 players who entered the Malmo Open this year. Supporting our 12 players were coaches/managers/minders Susan Keating and Mick Cunningham, along with additional coaching from Rachel, Hiroto and Chinatsu, who also assisted when coaches were under pressure to cover all of the matches. Mick also provided the entertainment but, alas, what was said in Malmo, stays in Malmo….! While our overall approach to the competition was one of developing the skills and confidence in our emerging players, our overall medal toll tells us that we are well on the way on that journey – a whopping 2 gold, 5 silvers and 2 bronze medals with an additional 5 quarter-finalists in the knockout stages of a number of classes.
Friday 7th involved all of the doubles matches. Gerry Commins won gold (partnering Arnoy Brede of Bergen) in the Wheelchair Doubles final, where the final opposition was provided by our own Mark Henderson and Alicia Winter, on a score of 3-1. In the standing doubles, Aaron Mellows and Matthew Collins progressed to the last 8 of the knockout stage, but were unlucky to come up against the top seeds and eventual winners and lost 3-0. Matthew Flynn and Conor Halpin qualified for the plate event in the Standing Doubles, but lost out in the last 8. So, a great start with 1 gold and 2 silver medals plus a quarter-final placing in a knockout stage.
Saturday 8th saw matches for players over 21 years organised across 3 mixed performance classes along with a Youth (U/15) class for both wheelchair and standing players and a Junior (U/18) class for both wheelchair and standing players. In the largest class – Performance Class 3 – Gerry Commins, Mark Henderson and Patrick Sweeney qualified out of their respective groups, but were beaten at the last 16 of the knockout stage. Aoife Kelly and Aaron Daly both went through to the last 16 in the plate, but lost out at that stage. Gary Sorenson enjoyed a wonderful run in the plate and eventually finished joint third winning a bronze medal – mission accomplished for both Gary and Susan! In the Junior Standing event Matthew Collins qualified out of his group but lost out at the last 8 in the knockout stage, while Aaron Daly, Matthew Flynn and Caoimhe Folan went into the plate but lost out at the last 8 stage. The undoubted highlight of Day 2 came in the Youth Standing class where Conor Halpin, playing very well throughout, won the plate final. In the same class Aaron Mellows was very unlucky to finish outside of the medals in 5th place. So, another gold medal plus a bronze medal for Ireland!
Sunday 9th presented the Squad with competition in singles matches in their respective Paralympic classes. Here we enjoyed our largest medal haul and some outstanding performances. In class 3, Alicia Winter went into the plate event and eventually made it to the final where she finished second, winning a fine silver medal. In class 3-4 combined, Gerry Commins and Mark Henderson also progressed into their plate event where Gerry won a silver medal and Mark, losing out in the semi-final, won a bronze medal. In class 7 both Matthew Flynn and Caoimhe Folan lost out in the last 16 of their plate event. In class 8 Conor Halpin fared better in getting to the last 16 stage of the knockout event, but eventually lost out here. In class 11, Aoife Kelly, Matthew Collins and Aaron Mellows qualified out of their respective groups into the knockout stage. In an unfortunate draw Aaron and Matthew were pitched against each other in the last 16 and, after a titanic struggle, Matthew prevailed on a 3-2 score. Both Matthew and Aoife failed to get beyond the last 8 stage having been beaten by the eventual finalists respectively. In the plate event Gary Sorenson went out in the last 16, Aaron Daly and Patrick Sweeney progressed into the last 8 where they were drawn to play each other. Patrick prevailed 3-1 and eventually he made it to the final where he lost out 3-1 despite playing very well. So, a medal toll of 3 silver and 1 bronze for Day 3.
Finally, thanks to the coaches for their unfailing enthusiasm and encouragement of the players; thanks must also go to all our players for a wonderfully competitive attitude over the weekend and for being great ambassadors for themselves and for TTI; last, but not least, special mention must go out to the family members who travelled to Malmo to support the players and who contributed to a very enjoyable social experience.