Zak reigns as Irish come up trumps in Prague

Junior Team
Junior Singles

Ireland’s top juniors were in action in Prague over the weekend as a squad of 10 (7 players, 3 coaches) made the journey for the 2016 Prague Grand Prix. 

In total, 14 countries were represented at the tournament, with both team and individual events making up the schedule over the 3 days play. 

Proceedings got underway with the team competitions on Friday morning, where all players were in action. Representing the Irish teams were the Junior Girls (Katie McGlone & Chloe O’Halloran), Cadet Girls (Mia O’Rahilly Egan & Lucy Craig) and Junior Boys (Zak Wilson, Alexander Gillen & Owen Cathcart).


All teams got off to a strong start, navigating their way through the group stages and into the knockout rounds. The Cadet Girls were first to fall however, as despite an excellent match with a strong German outfit, they eventually lost out by a 3-1 scoreline, with Mia taking the 1 singles rubber. Lucy came close to winning against the top German girl, losing out in 5 sets after a real edge of the seat encounter. 

The Junior Girls won their first knockout match, setting them up with a quarter final tie against a tricky Czech team. Having been 2-0 down, the girls fought back to take the match to a deciding doubles. Here it was anyones game and despite a brave effort, they went down narrowly in 5 sets. Huge positives could be taken nonetheless, as the girls category produced a number a tight, well contested matches.

The Junior Boys were sailing through the team event, a Owen, Zak and Sasha brushed all aside, showing their quality against strong opposition. They reached the final without dropping a match and here they faced the top Czech team in the draw. Zak did the damage in the final, as he picked up 2 singles wins, one of which came following an epic comeback from 0-2 against number 1 player, Koldas. Despite Owen losing out 12-10 in the 5th to Koldas, the boys had enough to close out the match 3-1 and claim the title!


Sunday was when most of the singles action took place, as all knockout matches got underway. Lucy was the only unlucky one to miss out on the main draw, as an extremely tough group meant she could only manage 1 win from 3 (despite narrowly losing 11-9 in the 5th to a former World Hopes Team player from Czech). This didn’t stop the Glenburn rookie though, as she reeled off a number of fine victories to claim a runner-up finish in the Consolation event on the final day of action.

The first shock to come on Sunday was the exit of Owen Cathcart from the Cadet Boys Singles. Seeded 1, Owen faced a tough opening match against 3rd seed Simonsen (DEN) who was seeded 3rd but came through his group as runner-up. Owen never got going here unfortunately, and lost out in straight sets. 

Mia was next to exit, as she lost out to Lucy’s conqueror in 4 tight sets. This was however an excellent match which could have gone either way. 

Katie was then beaten in the last 16 to Czech opposition. Despite rallying hard to stay in touch, she couldn’t quite get to grips with her tough opponent. 

Chloe, meanwhile, played a solid match to advance to the quarter finals. Here she was beaten by top Austrian, Kellerman in 3 close sets. 

Remaining in the draw were our two junior boys, Zak and Sasha, who continued their fine form from the team event. They both advanced through the draw with relative ease as their composure and focus ensured that they remained ready for all opponents. In the semis they both had tough tests, but keeping with the story of the weekend, they answered the questions posed and proceeded to book their places in the final after 3-1 wins. 

So it was to be an all-irish final at the Prague Grand Prix! Before the match, it was very hard to predict a winner as the coaches looked on with interest. Zak was first out of the blocks, taking the first set. Having led at the start of the 2nd, it looked as if the Belfast boy could run away, however Sasha found his top level and quickly turned the match on its head. Sasha used his strong serve/receive and half-long attack to great effect as he took a 2-1 lead. Zak wouldn’t go away though, as he bounced back to take the 4th 11-6. Into the decider, Sasha was the aggressor, and leading 5-2, he was in pole position once more. However, Zaks battling qualities shone through yet again as he reeled off a succession of points to get back in the match. Sasha then drew the score level at 9-9, yet it wasn’t enough, as the Ulsterman showed guts to take the next 2 points and clinch the Prague GP Junior Boys Singles title. 

Overall, it was a very successful tournament for our young squad, with all players showing great qualities throughout three gruelling days of Table Tennis.