The Senior Six Nations Table Tennis Championships certainly left its mark following a breathtaking three days play in Lisburn Raquets Club at the weekend.
The event, supported by Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council, lived up to all its hype, as top players from Ireland and beyond gathered for what was a real festival of table tennis.
The Irish men’s team, led by national champion Paul McCreery (Saintfield), took silver medals behind a fine Scottish team, while Ashley Givan (Dungannon) led the women’s side to a podium bronze.
England took the combined title (23 points) ahead of the Irish (19 points), but will rue the 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Irish team of McCreery, Gavin Maguire (Dublin), Ashley Robinson (Clogher) and Ryan Farrell (Dublin), as they were denied the coveted title.
McCreery was clearly team supremo as the Nottingham University graduate showed table precision in picking up two singles wins against old rivals England. Both of these wins were epic five set encounters, with the second one in particular going right to the wire as the Saintfield man recovered from four match points down against the English number one, Helshan Weerasinghe, to secure victory and level the team score at 2-2. Gavin Maguire then won the decider against Alex Ramsden 3-1, earning Ireland a hard-fought victory.
Scotland proved too strong in the final showdown against the host nation, winning 3-0. Paul went down 3-2 to Craig Howieson, and this was followed by an equally nip and tuck affair between Ashley Robinson and Gavin Rumgay.
Ireland came out at the wrong end of another five setter here despite a brilliant battling display by Ashley. The doubles was another close one, as the newly formed pair of McCreery/Robinson showed huge quality against the established pairing of Rumgay/Howieson, but it wasn’t enough in the end as the boys went down 3-1.
The women’s team of QUB Student Ashley Givan, Katie McGlone (Dublin) and Rebecca Finn (Carrduff) fought hard throughout the team event, with victories over Guernsey and Scotland earning bronze. The best win came in the opening round of matches as the girls found themselves 2-1 down against Guernsey following a doubles loss. This is where Ashley Givan and Katie McGlone produced for the hosts, winning their matches to seal the tie.
Despite their best efforts, Wales and England proved that bit too strong but overall, a bronze medal was a fine result for the young Irish team on show.
With the team event over, Singles Sunday was upon us but the host nation fell short in their bid to claim individual medals.
In the men’s singles, Paul McCreery was perhaps the most unfortunate of all, as he was drawn against top seed Rumgay in the last 16. Despite yet another crowd pleasing display, including an amazing 29-stroke rally, Paul couldn’t quite shake off the battling Scottish number one as he fell short by the narrowest of margins 12-10 in the fifth set.
Elsewhere, Gavin Maguire couldn’t quite find his best form as he went down in straight sets to the in form Craig Howieson in the quartera. Amazingly, this is a match that may have been avoided on another day, as Ireland’s own 13 year-old Owen Cathcart (Belfast), pushed the Scottish number two to the brink in the last 16, leading 10-9 with chances to take a 2-1 lead before the Scot’s experience told.
Meanwhile, Ashley Robinson also fell victim to the top seed, 11-8 in the fifth set. This wasn’t where Irish interest ended as Zak Wilson, a singles extra, stormed to the quarters with victories over Welsh number two Dan O’Connell, Guernsey number one Garry Dodd and Ireland’s Alan Walsh. In the last eight, he fell marginally short to England’s number two Alex Ramsden 12-10 in the fourth set, an excellent performance.
On the women’s side, Chloe O’Halloran provided the first shock of the day, beating Ireland leading light Ashley Givan 3-2 to knock her out. Chloe went on to the quarters, where despite a valiant effort, she was beaten 3-1 to the experienced Welsh number two Megan Phillips 3-1.
Elsewhere, Katie McGlone and Rebecca Finn also earned quarter-final spots, to go down to eventual finalists Carey and Karina LeFevre respectively.
All in all, an excellent weekend’s table tennis for players and spectators alike and everyone is already looking forward to the Douglas Huston Ulster Open Championships in Lisburn Racquets Club from 27-29 November.