Once in a Galaxy not that far away………..
The Rebel Alliance
Flying into Brussels Airport on Friday 13th may be a bad idea, went through my head as we descended on our Aer Lingus flight to what is now probably the most securely policed airport in Europe. With a party of 9 players and 3 NPC’s our adventure had really begun.
There is always at least one glitch and the car hire company provided us with over an hour’s wait in the confines of an underground car park, coupled with a flight delay, the time was ticking and it was well after 11 o’clock before we finally escaped.
The lads spent some of the time playing “car park pong” providing some light relief, as a couple of prospective drivers freaked out at 4 Taiwanese lads who for some reason clogged up the hire desk. We were given a free sat-nav which after Jimini worked out to how to use it became an invaluable accessory and he became “Chewy” to my “Solo,” as the Rebel Alliance hit the road destination Hasselt about an hour from the airport.
Con, Brenda and the girls had no problem negotiating their car hire and we set sail into the unknown.
Thankfully we were staying at the Molenheide Park, a holiday park, a Flemish version of Centre Parks, chalets catering for 6 people surrounded by woodland and the haunting sound of peacocks and wood pigeons. My head hit the pillow with much relief and I woke early enough to drive to the local bakery for breakfast supplies of croissant, ham, cheese and cherry jam! Welcome to Belgium.
Working out the route to three different halls and the information centre was a challenge and “Chewy” took charge of the navigation, I was a bit hard on him as we wove our way through unfamiliar roads but we did manage to get all three teams to the right hall in time for the first round in the team event with a half hours warm up time, thanks Jimini.
The Junior Girls (Category B Girls) made up of Chloe O’Halloran, Mair Kelly and Nora O’Sullivan were left in what we discovered were the very capable hands of Brenda in the first match as I took charge of Dylan Grace, Jimini Kelly and Niall O’Driscoll in the Junior boys (Category B Boys) and Con took charge of Ciaran O’Donoghue, Erik Olsson and Jake Adler in the Category D Boys.
The Junior Boys launched into their assault with a 3/3 draw and after they beat the third 5/1 we needed a similar result to finish top of the group. This was almost achieved as Niall went to the fifth set but unfortunately was unable to finish it off and the boys had to settle for second place in the group.
Meanwhile at the Girls Hall the Rebel Alliance were in full swing as they had a group of 4 and disposed of all their matches with all the girls in winning form. The news that the D team had also won their group meant we had a very satisfactory morning.
I took on the D category boys for their singles matches as Con moved into the Junior Boys singles event. Jake had what we later discovered the hardest opening group, he lost out on count-back by 5 points after losing his first match, to one of the semi finalists but went on to beat a Dutch lad who reached the final. Ciaran cruised through his group and Erik also qualified for the next day.
The news from the Junior Boys that Niall had won all four of his matches and so had Dylan in the elite singles took the edge of a disappointing start for Chloe who had missed out by 3 points on count-back. Jimini’s group was also a count-back with three on the same set difference and he found himself also equal on points but this was against the lad he had lost to so finished 2nd in his group. Nora finished 2nd in her group along with Mair.
An evening swim in the adventure park buoyed the players while others took the time to explore the park and chillax for the evening. There was great rapport among the players and I think there are huge benefits combining both the West Cork and Ballincollig clubs and this was the first international experience for a number of the players.
The second day had the same format as the first but the singles were to be played through to the finals in the afternoon. I made my way to the Junior Girls team event, while Con had the D category boys. The Junior Boys had to look after themselves as there was a major cycling event around their hall and there was no access in or out between 12 and 5pm. We were delighted to hear that under their own steam they managed to reach the semi final stages to be played on Monday morning. This was then matched by the D Category boys and when the Junior Girls pulled off a great set of results we found all three teams set up for the semi final stages of the team event!
Our squad’s main focus had to be the team events but it was a fantastic performance by Ciaran in the D Category boys’ singles that was the highlight of the afternoon’s play. Reaching the semi finals and two sets down and 10/8 in the third Ciaran went into hyper-drive and eventually pulled off a 19/17 win and secured the last two sets 11/7, 11/7. The final was played with only a couple of spectators in the hall as all the other matches had been finished.
Ciaran took the first set against Colin Ligt the Dutch team’s No.1 11/8 but it was level after the second going down 10/12. The third was also tight with Ciaran gaining enough advantage 13/11. The audience was doubled as Con, Brenda and the junior girls made it over to watch the final set and one of our Rebels take the title in impressive fashion 11/5. Ciaran’s enormous grin lit up the whole hall and gave us much to celebrate. We eventually made it over to the Junior Boys where Dylan had reached the quarter finals but had been felled by none other than Alex Gillen from the “evil empire!” Sasha went on to record a fantastic win in the Elite boys singles event.
Another evening’s swim for most of the players and a struggle with the wi-fi for me trying to find a way of checking in for the flight home tomorrow and a relaxing evening in anticipation of the team semi finals the following day was our evening’s activities.
The Junior boys felt confident they could fly solo again for the semi finals, so Con resumed his role with the Category D team while I was treated to some fabulous drama with the Junior Girls Team. Chloe, as solid as ever lead the team displaying her experience and confidence that may have gone some way to bringing out the best in Mair as they swept their way to the final and eventually Mair wrapped the title up for the team on a 3-0 result. The delight, passion and camaraderie shown by this team is why I so love this sport!
We heard that the boys had narrowly lost their semi but had recovered to reach the podium in third.
So we made our way straight over to the Junior Boys where we heard how they had reached the final and it had gone to the fifth set in the tie breaker doubles. Against a pair including Tom Hoffman the losing finalist in the Elite singles it must have been a fine doubles victory for the guys and with two wins and a third in the team event we were all smiles and looking forward to the presentations.
We tried to get a picture with the UCD squad who had won the Elite Boys Team event and third in the Junior Boys but “Darth” Butler thwarted our Rebel advances.
What a fantastic set of results for all the Irish players and there were enthusiastic celebrations at the presentations and a happy crew that made its way back to our own planet. It was a lovely touch when the pilot announced our joint success over the tannoy.
This morning I opened my Facebook page to see one of my “memories,” the photograph was of the U12 Irish Squad who traveled to Hasselt 3 years ago and also won a Gold Team Medal, familiar faces 😉