Just how quickly fortunes can change in sport was very much in evidence at The National Badminton Centre in Lisburn at the weekend when three Alpha players Stuart Lightbody, Rachael Woods and Dona Scott had very personal stories to tell.
Just over a year ago, Stuart was bidding for inclusion in the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Squad but was to have an emergency operation on the eve of the Ulster players leaving to play in the Estonia Open and despite rushing back into the game failed to make the Glasgow-bound squad.
Competing in the Ulster Grade A competition, Stuart was seeded No2 in the Mens Singles and came through the early rounds with consummate ease beating one of the province’s brightest young stars Kyle Magee 21-14 21-6 before seeing off Ailesbury’s Neil O’Flaherty 21-10 21-112, who had brought an end to the challenge of Alpha’s Colin Watterson, the No3/4 seed.
In the other half of the draw, Stuart’s younger brother Ross presented the top seed Mark Brady with a few headaches despite a 21-9 21-10 defeat and Curtis Presho was decidedly disappointed with his performance against the top seed.
It was Brady though, who raced to the opening set and while there may have been little between the two finalists after the opening set, it was Alpha’s Lightbody who was to snatch the title 21-18 21-19 in just short of 50 minutes and that will put him in a very good frame of mind for the forthcoming tournaments.
Just to emphasize his form at the moment, Stuart teamed up with Catherine Coyle to turn the seedings upside down in the mixed doubles by lifting the crown.
They knocked out the seeded Jonathan Ruddy/Clodagh Dunne 21-19 21-20 and ended Michael Turkington and Valerie Martin’s high hopes of making the final.
In the final, Lightbody and Coyle were to beat Paul Andrews and Dona Scott, who was the second of the local Alpha players to make a major impact on the competition.
Dona was enjoying her first tournament finals since returning to the fold only last September after having been out of the sport since 2009. After being part of the halcyon years when Alpha have reigned supreme in both Ulster and Irish badminton, Dona won representative honours at Under 18 level and made a number of senior international appearances in 2007-08 only to take a break from the sport when she left these shores for Athens, Istanbul and the mainland.
Now she has returned home to Lisburn and certainly after reaching two finals last weekend, the Orangefield Primary schoolteacher, will be looking forward to appearing more often.
“It was quite daunting,” she told the Ulster Star, “particularly when I saw the draw in the Ladies Doubles. Partnering Catherine Coyle we were due to meet only the No2 seeds Lucie Corcoran and Crona Rooney in the opening round.”
They were to see them off 21-9 21-8 and then knocked out the No3/4 seeds Clodagh Dunne and Beth Stephenson after dropping the opening set 21-14 to book their place in the final 21-19 21-19 only to find the No1 seeds Laura Hennessey and Gemma Tobin a step too far 21-18 21-16.
Finally, the competition perhaps saw Rachael Woods come of age. Though still celebrating her selection for the Barcelona-bound Irish squad next month, Rachael found herself on the threshold of making an exit from the Womens Singles at the quarter-final stage to Pam Peard.
She made six errors early in the opening set going from leading 8-4 to finding herself 10-7 down and despite having an opportunity to get back in the set at 17-18 she lost the opening set 21-19.
From being behind at 11-9 in the second, she was to hold the lead until 18-all and clinched the set 21-18. Throughout the decider, she was reasonably confident, even though the game was finely poised at 18-all but the 13 year-old Hunterhouse pupil ran out a 21-19 victor.
That gave her increased confidence to claim the scalp of the top seed Gemma Tobin, ranked No9 in Ireland, in the semi-final which she won in three sets, after falling behind losing the opener 21-17.
With the No2 seed Clodagh Dunne winning the opening set of a decider lasting nigh on 45 minutes, Rachael comprehensively took the second 21-14 and again maybe the number of three-setters which the Alpha youngster had to play finally caught up with her as the player from Taghmon snatched the title.