August is generally not very busy and I try to concentrate on doing stuff with my family, with 4 kids there is always plenty to do! They all play table tennis, it is almost compulsory in our family but only because we all go down the club on Fridays and we can’t leave the younger ones at home on their own. The two older ones help out with the training and they have their own training programs and as they play regularly in the Irish and Munster Rankings they need the training. Having said all that during the summer they often take the odd session off with parties, sleepovers and their busy social lives.
We have had a quiz night down at the Crookhaven Inn (my sister-in-law’s place) for the last few years as a fundraiser. The last couple of years we have used the money (€500 on average) towards the traveling cost of our “elite” players, those that travel to Irish Rankings. This year we had it as a fundraiser for the local Goleen Club, where most of are “elite” players train anyway. We don’t have a big membership as Goleen is a small village, we have a few who are very dedicated and a few that come in on a Friday more for the social side of things that actually the table tennis training. Those that come in help pay for the hall so it does help us keep going. The Goleen TTC is an important part of West Cork Table Tennis and we contribute our share to the association so we come under the group insurance scheme. Some of the money raised this year will cover that cost. We also need some new balls now we have moved over to plastic; they break so easily and are not as cheap as the old celluloid ball. We will also need to replace some of our loaner bats as they get damaged. Otherwise we are in pretty good shape when it comes to equipment.
The quiz night is organised by a local lady Claire Barrett who runs regular charity quiz nights in Crookhaven during the summer. We get some very good publicity and many people both locals and tourists are very supportive of what we are trying to achieve through the table tennis down here. Most can understand our problems as we have to travel so far to compete; Goleen to Belfast is a massive undertaking!
A number of local businesses provided us with raffle prizes this year; in fact every business in Goleen other than one gave us a contribution. I hate having to go and ask but without this funding things would be very tight. We are hosting a Munster Ranking this season in Goleen, we have held one biannually for a few years now and we do make a bit of money for the club through that, but it is a lot of hard work and I struggle to get help to organise. We hope to take a team to Hasselt in Belgium again this season and some of the money raised will have to be earmarked for that.
The annual West Cork Summer Camp took place again this year. We hold it the week leading up to the Goleen Summer Festival and host a Festival Tournament on the Saturday. The tournament is a “fun” event and worked well this year with a doubles, singles and one point event all held on the day with around 30 taking part. The camp itself was well attended with a mix of our own players and a few from outside as well as a number of tourists. It is very much a mixed ability session and numbers fluctuate with the weather. The one week of the summer I hope for rain all week! Thankfully we had a couple of “bad” days and we had 24 players. On the days the sun came out we had about 16. With a significant number of “beginners” I gave one of my old players Brian Crowley a ring and was delighted he came along on a couple of days and I could then concentrate on the high level. All in all I think it went well and I certainly saw some improvement in many of the players. Tony Higgins from Tralee sent me an envelope full of small spot prizes for the Summer Camp, which the kids loved, he is so generous and helpful we call him St. Tony of Tralee!
The Summer Camp heralds the start of our season and the “elite” players are in full swing in regards to pre-season preparation. I have put some of the details up on one of the other pages here (Season Planning) so I won’t go into detail here but things have run pretty smoothly. This is a very individualised process as the players are all in very different stages and it has to be tailored around them. We had one player take part in a week-long camp in Cork, another was over in Sweden, one is busy trying to make some money working and another has gone AWOL. We have two travelling up to the Irish Senior Classification in Dublin for the first time at the end of the month, to test out the “senior scene,” but the main focus will be the Junior Irish Classification in mid September.
Liam our category 11 paralympic player has been regularly attending the monthly Irish Training Camps up in Dublin. However he went up with his carer last weekend only to find that it had been cancelled! That is one hell of a long way to go to find out. I did ask the organisers to cc me on all his correspondence so I could keep an eye on what was going on but I heard nothing and it appears neither did Liam. I don’t know whether he actually got notification of it being cancelled but it is a pretty lousy situation and one I hope will not happen again.
My Special Olympic Training Sessions carry on right throughout the summer months, except for a one week holiday break. There is patchy attendance as some go off on family holidays etc but the ones who come along always have tremendous enthusiasm and I encourage my kids to come along to help out. We have a challenge match later today between Cope Clonakilty and CoAction Skibbereen in Skibbereen. It is billed very much as a friendly but I know the coach in Clonakilty is very competitive by nature. For me it is a good opportunity for the players to interact and we have been practicing our doubles which is always a bit problematical. Usually Special Olympic events are divisioned but I don’t think we will get the chance to do that today. I am sure there will be much excitement and I hope it proves worthwhile.
I think that just about wraps in up for August. I will have a report on the match today and the results from our trip to Dublin for the Irish Senior Classification on the weekend. I have been working a lot on developing a participation strategy for Co. Limerick and Co. Waterford and have posted an article on that “Kick Starting Participation,” and I have a meeting with the Munster Branch tonight where I hope I will get support for my initiative. Schools are back next week and I will have to sort out my weekly timetable, looks like a few changes are on the way as hall availability and timetabling issues always take some time to fall into place with so many schools and clubs to deal with.
Irish Senior Classification, Dublin 29th/30th August.
This was my first time travelling up to the Irish Senior Classification. Three of the Irish Junior Rankings are being held along with the Senior Open events this year, Ulster, Munster & Connaught and as we plan to travel to these and as both Mair and James are now juniors they wanted to include establishing an Irish Senior Ranking on this list of goals this season. All in all I think it makes good sense and if it motivates them as players it looks like the right thing to do.
So it seemed logical to travel up to Dublin for the first senior event of the year. We had little expectation other than we hope the standard would be high and it would give both of them a chance to gain some valuable match play before the Irish Junior Classification latter on in September. James has been working hard on his physical fitness as outlined on a previous blog and with a couple of camps leading up to this event he felt well prepared. At the camp in Ballincollig he trained under two former Irish National Coaches Conn Higgins and Colum Slevin and both of them were encouraging about his form and the camp gave him some much needed “sharpening up.” When a player puts a lot of effort into their preparation it can be very demoralising if they don’t see any effect and I was a bit concerned that at this higher level James might get a bit demoralised but there again he would get the chance to play against new opposition and that has got to be a positive move especially as within the junior game he will be playing the same players again this season. Mair was also very “up” for the competition but was fully aware that her preparation was limited as she worked very hard this summer making money for her various projects away from table tennis.
James started slowly in his group against an experienced senior Pat McCloughlan (No.38) and felt he was not firing on all cylinders. But Pat is no “push over” and went on to qualify for the main event the next day. The ISC is played over 2 days with the first day a qualifier for the second. The Top 10 Seniors in the Men’s and Top 5 in the Women’s get an automatic place with the other players trying to qualify for the 6 available places in the men’s and 3 in the women’s. If players don’t take up their automatic places there are more qualification places made available and there were 7 places in the men’s for this event.
James had Charlie Fitzgerald in his second match. Charlie only played 2 of the Irish Junior Rankings last season but finished 5th at the Munster Open and was ranked 26th at Senior level. James had lost to Charlie on the last occasion they played so was delighted to take the win 3/0 and put himself in the running to qualify for the next round and with a win against Denis Kelly he did just that.
In the second round James put in an even better performance and took out Ryan McConkey (Snr No.16. Jnr. No.5), where he dominated the game with some very aggressive forehand and backhand play. With victory over Brian Devereux (No.27) and Alexander Gillen finishing in the top spot James once again went through as second in his group to face David Sulkonski in the last 16. With another win he made the ¼ finals to face Dylan Grace, one of his main rivals in last year’s U15s. This was a great match going to the fifth set but Dylan saw off James’s power with some excellent blocking and took his place as one of the qualifiers for the Sunday.
James had another chance to make the following day in the 5th/6th play off against Darius Zatylyn (No.45). James really raised his game again after the disappointment of the ¼ final loss and went on to win and qualify for the next stage.
This was a massive boost to his confidence and we hadn’t really talked about the possibility of him qualifying. I had not really thought too much about it, I had thought about booking accommodation just in case but as it we would have been unlikely to know whether either of them would qualify by 12 o’clock I hadn’t booked a room for the Saturday night. After a number of fruitless phone calls we ended up having to book a fairly expensive treble for the night.
Mair had a tough enough first round group with Emma Ludlow and Kate Whelan the top two. Mair has had a fairly good record against Emma in competitive terms and felt she could put up a good performance which she did but was still unable to get the win. Kate was too consistent and Mair went down 3/0. She won her last match but this put her into a 5 player group in the consolation. She played some good table tennis and felt she won her matches without too much trouble topping the group. However Mair would be the first to admit her fitness needs work and she looked tired after her 8 matches and in the semi final she never got going losing out to Orla Timlin. She finished tied 15th which she was pleased with.
James turned up for Sunday’s event with a lot on his mind. His group saw him up against the no.2, no.7 and Alan Walsh who had qualified the day before. James has beaten Alan so he felt this was his only realistic chance of any result. However he had Vlad in his first match and understandably he was intimidated and tense which was reflected in his approach. Events like this will hopefully give him the experience of how to deal with just such a situation. In his match against Zac Wilson he played better but Zac was still dominant in the game as you would expect but it was positive to see signs that James was settling into the competition. I think we were both disappointed with his performance against Alan Walsh. Alan is a very strong player and it would have been an amazing feat for James to have beaten Alan but he was disappointed not to have been more competitive and shown that he has what it takes to play at this level. I think his expectation may have put him under even more pressure and he never really got going.
His best match was against Sam Logue in the next round. Again in the first couple of sets he made some simple errors and started to get on his own back. After losing the first three sets (best of 7) and 7/3 down in the fourth we called a time out. James had his head down and again was the first to criticise how he was playing. But after a quick tactical refocus and a bit of a pep talk he went back to the table re-energised. I was delighted to see him pull back the difference and go on to win the set. He took this momentum into the next set and showed some of his best play of the day to cruise to a second set victory. The 6th set was tighter as Sam played more consistently and moved James around the table. I was very pleased with James’s touch and movement but Sam came out the winner comfortably. I think it was important that James managed to show some composure and with more of this level of play I think his tactical game will improve. This meant he was to face Dylan Grace once again and he was positive about the idea as he felt after day 1 that if he could just keep his concentration he would be able to break Dylan down. The match was close with sets going to deuce but Dylan still showed the composure needed at this level and took the match and 13th place while James settled for 14th.
I have to admit I am delighted with both Mair and James and for different reasons. I am always a bit frustrated over Mair as I think with a bit more application in regards to training she could achieve a much higher level. But there again I admire her approach. She is fully aware of it but she has many other interests that equal her interest in table tennis, her art, photography, music, working and her studies are balanced and she knows exactly how much she is willing to put into each of these interests. She always seems to enjoy her table tennis and is such a great fighter, tenacity is her middle name. She helps out with coaching both younger kids as well as volunteers for Special Olympics and is a great asset to the club. As a parent I am very proud that she has the strength of will to decide just what she is prepared to do and does that to the best of her ability. I think this will stand her in good stead and I imagine she will be active in some level with table tennis for many years.
James is a very hard worker and sacrifices a lot to be at the level he is and I hope he feels rewarded for that effort. Training as he does in such an isolated manner I am surprised he manages to sustain the level of play he does and I think that comes down to a natural talent for table tennis which is also reflected in all the other sports he excels in. The camp he attended in Ballincollig was excellent but meant 4 hours in the car everyday and his fitness routine also eats into his social and recreational life. Qualifying for the second day at the ISC I hope shows that his work ethic was worth the sacrifice, when he sees his friends going “down town” while he spends another couple of hours in the training hall is tough, especially for a teenager and a very social one at that! We are both frustrated at the “Irish Scene” as I imagine are loads of other players but he has kept going and still continues to surprise many with his results. I hope we have planned an interesting enough program this season and we have a few adventures planned. Mair and James are looking forward to playing together for Ael Y Bryn in the Welsh Team Championships in October; we always enjoy our trips to Wales!