The Goleen Community Centre was the venue for the West Cork Open with 11 tables in use and 70 competitors over 2 days of competition. I would love to report that it was a “great” day but after the players’ amazing results at the South Coast Open it was always going to be a tough call to maintain or even build on that. However we had a “good” day and I was delighted with some of the performances of our players especially a couple of debuts by our lesser know stars!
Donal Riordan from Bantry played in his first Munster Ranking in the U13s just missing out on qualifying for U11. Donal is a keen player and one of our best from Gael Scoil. He had a tough enough group and appeared very nervous, he moved into the plate after some close matches and only just failed to reach the next round. Great experience for this young player and I was delighted to see him play.
Another of the Gael Scoil/Bantry Club players Cathal O’Driscoll also played in his first event at U11 and again started slowly, his first match in the plate against Shane Conway of Cloughjordan saw him progress to the Plate semi final and another win against Isabelle O’Sullivan from Leeside saw him up against Suki Kelly. These two have tremendous matches in the Bantry Club rankings with the last reaching 17/15 and it was again a close affair with Cathal winning the Plate on a 2/1 scoreline.
Alex Maguire was our only U15 West Cork entry. Alex is a student of Schull Community College and is an all round talented youngster entertaining most of the club with his piano solos and kick flips! But it was on the table he made his debut at this level. This was a good start for Alex showing progress and narrowly missing out on qualifying for the main event. He was matched up against Daniel Kennedy in the plate, who then went on to reach the semi final after beating Alex.
Jeanie Clarke is a great asset to West Cork Table Tennis always enthusiastic and a hard worker. She was persuaded to dive in at the deep end when she agreed to play in the U18 Girls event. This is a daunting task for any inexperienced player competing. There is nowhere to hide when faced with a group including Kerry O’Mahoney, Zofia Wawryzyniak and Nora O’Sullivan. Jeanie then had to face her friend and club mate Mair Kelly in the second round. All through the event she maintained her smile and I was very pleased with her performance taking on every chance that she had.
By their own high standards our regular players had a mixed day. The heady heights of Champion were reached by both James Kelly and Suki Kelly in the two extremes of the age categories James in the U18 Boys and Suki in the U11 Girls. James had a tough enough encounter in the group stages when he went the full distance against James Barry of Kinneigh and Suki won the U11 Title against Isabelle O’Sullivan from Leeside in the full distance as well. It was great to see these two girls battling it out and the match was played in good competitive spirit and making friends off the table as well. Table Tennis is a small family in Munster and these two are likely to face each other time and time again over the following years and I am hopeful they will help each other improve to a higher and higher level.
James Kelly went onto to reach the final of the U18 boys event and once again sealed his placing this time against his earlier opponent James Barry who overcame the very talented Alexander Ahl in a tough 4 setter. Barry was obviously in great form and his match against Kelly was a closely contested match with both the first sets going to deuce. Kelly continued his remarkable record of 5 years undefeated at his age group but this was one of the closest encounters so far.
Niall O’Driscoll who had such a good opening event in Kinsale would be the first to agree that his was unable to reproduce that form. After returning this week from a trip to America he found the going very tough and was only able to manage 7th in the event and 5th in the Band 2 Senior event later on in the day.
Jasmine Kelly was once again very solid in her performances at both U13 and U15; with a 4th and 6th place finish respectively. It was good to see a slightly larger entry in these events but the Leeside girls are currently dominating the events and it will take a concerted effort and some major improvement to make any form of challenge against the likes of Silke and Zofia the U13 and U15 Champions on the day.
Erik Olsson went into the U13 event as the No.1 seed and reached the semi final stage without dropping a set. He was matched up against Ciaran O’Donoghue from Ballincollig. This was a good match to watch with both players putting their skills on display. However Ciaran showed some startling counter hitting against Erik and eventually pulled ahead on a 3/1 score line. Erik went on to finish 3rd after beating Nick McLeod from South Coast in the play off and Ciaran went onto win the final 3/0 against Jake Adler from Cloughjordan. Ciaran, who is great friends with Erik completed a remarkable double with both the U15 and U13 Titles when he beat Alexander Ahl in a dramatic U15 finale. Erik put in an excellent performance in the U15 event meeting Alexander in the ¼ final stages and the two performed in front of a sizable West Cork crowd. Erik eventually finished 7th.
Mair Kelly would have had the biggest disappointment of the day with her own high expectations and her previous form she would have expected to have finished higher than 5th. There is a very high level of competition and little margin for error in the U18s with every player pushing the level of their abilities. She came up against Thuy Linh Cashman in her first round group and lost 3/2 and again against Shelly Tobin on the same score line. As a coach and parent I was delighted that even after such an emotional upset she was able to recover enough to keep her composure when introduced to the Mayor of Cork County immediately after the match. He was also very impressed and paid tribute to her sportsmanship after such a disappointment. I sometimes feel we need to remind ourselves that sport is an important vehicle for our personal development especially when dealing with junior players. Their personal growth and the lessons they learn go way beyond the winning of medals and trophies. It is easier to win and harder to face defeat, how we learn to cope with it and still move on is one of the many important lesson we can learn from our great sport and as a parent I was immensely proud of the attitude Mair displayed on the day. She was delighted to have the opportunity to face one of her opponents again in the Senior event and reverse the result.
After an exhausting couple of days we came to the last match of the event, the senior final. James played a remarkable semi final against the very experienced Pawel Kopacz, which had both drama and skill in spades. The final set went to 10/10 and the tension was turned up a further notch with a time out and one minute to calm the nerve and plan for action. James returned to the table and was able to deliver the final blow required to reach the final against Alan Walsh from Ballincollig. James was mostly delighted to have been able to show his talent and ability during the semi in front of his grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, godparents, cousins and friends! The first time many of them had seen him play at this level.
Alan Walsh is without doubt one of the most talented players in Munster and performs at the highest level in Ireland and even though James had a remarkable win against him at the last event he was well aware that he would have deliver something extra special to take him on. I am delighted to report he did, the quality of play from both players was exceptional and a great advert for the sport. Alan under the charge of top Irish Coach Conn Higgins consistently delivered some of his best play and took a 2 set lead with each point fiercely contested. Support for both players came from both camps and buoyed by this James took the 3rd set. There were no further gears to reach as the play continued at the very highest level for the 4th set but Alan took the initiative and the final set to take a much deserved senior title to mutual acclaim from the crowd. His best shot of the day? The 3 pointer he made while sitting on the side lines with a basketball after the match!
A truly excellent finish to a remarkable marathon of table tennis in West Cork, I was delighted to showcase the very best of what Munster has to offer and proud that we were able to provide our facility for just such an occasion. There are many who make this possible and it is easy to forget those that make it possible. The Goleen Community Council and local members of the community who regularly support us, Jorg the Goldsmith and Celtic Table Tennis who sponsor are activities as well as individuals like Tony Higgins, Tony Leahy and Alan Hurley who worked behind the scenes, their efforts cannot be taken for granted. Those kids who volunteer to umpire above and beyond their duties, the likes of the O’Callaghans, Leahys, Ciaran and others who make an important contribution. I also want to make a special mention for an individual who works very much behind the scenes and who is a pillar of support to all our table tennis activities in Goleen Tommy Jermyn, who on a weekly basis enables us to run the club in Goleen. Of course above all I would like to thank Kate, who in so many ways and for so many years (25yrs) has contributed behind the scenes with little acknowledgement, thank you.
I would like to leave my report on that note but I do feel there are important issues that need to be addressed by the Munster Branch. Our sport has so many positives to highlight and to offer and I feel it is not only the responsibility of the Branch committee but every single participant, including coaches, parents and officials to make sure we protect the values and ideals of our sport from any threat to these principles. Behaviour of coaches is of paramount importance and I feel we need to take steps to insure that only the highest standards of practice and conduct are acceptable. As tournament referee over the 2 days of competition it was my responsibility to ensure fair play and the implementation of regulations to the best of my ability. I believe there were too many instances of what I would describe as barracking and intimidation on my role as referee and for one I feel steps need to be taken to insure that this is removed from our sport.