I am not sure how to write this article about the Irish Junior Nationals. I suppose it was disappointing, there were many positives within the performances of our players but overall the event was, as I said disappointing. I like to think of the Irish Nationals as the highlight of the year but the atmosphere was very flat. I think this was mostly due to the format, which can only be described as weird and most spectators, parent, coaches and players were confused as to what was going on. Basically we had a first round group with 2 coming out into a second round group with one coming out, that is not unusual but we then had players coming out of the second round straight into semi finals! With only a couple of ¼ finals for some. So you could have a player winning on count-back in a group going into the semi finals with another finishing 13th! Strange days indeed.
Jimini had a tough encounter in his first round group with the fast improving Zak Early and Jimini came away with a 3/2 win which he was delighted with and he comfortably beat both Conor O’Callaghan and Jack Carrol to top his group. Jimini found himself in the 9th seeded position for the event with the return of Zak Wilson & Alexander Gillen from playing abroad. We were both surprised to find that Ryan McConkey had been given a seeding above him after only playing one event this season along with Jonatan McDonald who plays as a cadet in Sweden. This put Jimini out of the top 8 seedings and a match up with Irish No.4 Charlie Fitzgerald in the second round. Notably McDonald was knocked out by the 8th seed Brian Dunleavy in the second round while Charlie went on to beat Jimini. Jimini did beat Paddy Vaughan in the second round so finished 7th overall. But this had to be shared with 5 other players as there were no play offs on the day.
Mair was in action in the U18 Girls and was once again in a group with Kerry O’Mahoney who she had beaten previously but not on this occasion, Mair did go onto record wins against Emma Wylie and Amanda Taylor to finish second in the group. Her second round group saw her matched up against the second and third seeds! Mia O’Rahilly-Egan and Nga Nguyen. After a straight sets loss to Nga, Mair put in another excellent performance against Mia and had 2 match points in the 4th set, which incidentally could have put Mia out of the event and Nga into the semi final on count-back. Mia went on to win the match 3/2 and later in the day the National Junior Title. With no ¼ finals and 5/8 play offs Mair finished 9th along with 4 others.
Tom Walsh and Niall O’Driscoll both went into the plate event with Tom coming very close to a win against Conor Leahy in another 5 set match, tom is still progressing after his broken foot earlier in the season and was unable to finish off the match. Conor Nugent and Brian Dunleavy were too strong for him at this stage. Niall also had his chances against Orqo Hickey in his group but was unable to finish losing out to Thomas Early and Joey Nelson. Tom progressed to the last 16 in the plate beating Jack Carroll but lost out to against Ennoch Oppong. Niall had a very tough group with both Alan Pattison and James McGrath. Alan went on to win the plate with James reaching the semi finals.
Erik was are only U13 competitor and he saw off the challenge of Nick McCleod to top the first round group and found himself in a second round group with the 3rd and 5th seed Dillon Byrne and Ciaran O’Donoghue. Dillon proved too tough for him in the first match but rallied against Ciaran to reach the fifth set. All in all it wasn’t the best performance by either player but Ciaran was able to dig just that bit deeper to take the match 3/2.
I didn’t stay for the Sunday and the U15 event as I had a car full of juniors and it felt strange getting home on Saturday night and even stranger to have a Sunday free of table tennis, my first Sunday at home with the family since Christmas. Erik stayed up with his dad and I can only go on the results posted on the website. Erik lost 3/2 to the group winner Jonathan Mooney who also beat Dillon Byrne and went into the plate. On the website in indicates Erik came second in his group but according to his dad he won both his matches but went in against Maitiu Heckmann in the ¼ finals winning 2/1 but lost out to Alexander Ahl in the semi final 2/0. He was put down as a Balincollig player for the second time this season rather than West Cork as he was entered; maybe there is something I should know about!
This leaves Erik at No.10 in the Irish Rankings the 4th Munster player in the top 10. He will have to perform well at the next Munster event to be assured of an U13 Interpros place with the option of playing U15. With Mair, James, Jasmine and Niall all in the running for Junior Interpros places UCC will be an important event on the calendar.
For me the Junior Nationals will not be fondly remembered the draw was unsatisfactory and the number of complaints upset the event, the complaints came from everyone, players, coaches and parents. It said on the entry form that if there were not enough numbers the second round would go straight into knockout and I don’t think anyone imagined that would be interpreted into groups, I would hold to the belief that a knockout is a straight match between two players not a group of three with one coming out. The draw could have easily led into ¼ finals and that I think should be the way an event of this nature should be held. Having no play offs just means that points have to be shared out between a number of players and with players and coaches establishing ranking goals for the season it didn’t help anyone.
I shall also remember the Junior Nationals as an event where a couple of players and even a coach showed us how not to act at a junior sporting event. The question of discipline is an important element in our sport, I am proud that we do not tolerate aggressive posturing or unsporting behaviour. However the issuing of yellow cards needs to be consistent. I have witnessed a number of offenses which have taken place right in front of referees and official umpires that have gone unreported and there again there is the argument that if you allow some why do you issue them to others for exactly the same reason. I have heard a lot of young players discussing the issue and none of them see it as fair at present. I do see a place for expressing “passion” in our sport but the powers that be need to be consistent on what is acceptable and unacceptable and let us all get on the same page. Sorry for the delay in posting this report but my computer packed up for the last week, what a nightmare! After quite a bit of discussion we have decided not to send anyone to the Irish Senior Nationals this season, the number of events has been relentless and the cost mixed with the inconsistency that has been on offer means we will stay at home. Numbers of entries for Irish Table Tennis events has definitely been falling and I think these issues should be addressed but I think it is unlikely anything will be done as no one wants to start analysing why, as that would mean that someone would have to take responsibility and consequently the blame. In my microcosmic experience fewer and fewer playing but at a higher and higher standard will only drive the expense shouldered by the few, higher and higher, until we reach a critical point and then it becomes unsustainable.