In last year’s Ulster U19 Open Jack Armstrong breezed through almost unnoticed to snatch the coveted Boy’s Singles title from his Alpha clubmate Ben Dempster who had ended the hopes of the top seeded Sean Patrick Laureta 18-21 21-15 21-14.
In the final Armstrong lost the opening set 21-19 but was never going to allow the Bangor Grammar School pupil to snatch the title from his grasp winning the next two sets comfortably 21-14 21-16 so this year Armstrong was unwilling to give up the title without a struggle and, as the No3/4 seed, he accounted for Matthew Donnelly 21-9 21-13 and Ben Lawlor 21-9 21-16 in the opening rounds.
Standing between him and a place in the final was Daniel O’Meara, the No2 seed and even when he lost the opening set 21-17, Armstrong always looked as if he could draw level and take the match into a deciding set and this was the way the semi-final unfolded with Armstrong deservedly drawing level ,capturing the second set 21-17.
The decider was a tense affair, both players having spectators on the edge of their seats even setting aside the fact that Armstrong previously had only recorded ONE win in FIVE over his opponent and stood some FOUR places behind him in the rankings, O’Meara at 17 and Armstrong at 21 and you have to go back to 2017 and the Ulster U17 Open for his sole victory over O’Meara.
Armstrong though will have been so disappointed that he could not get over the line and there had been so little between the pair before O’Meara booked his place in the final 21-19 after 42 minutes.
A place in the semi-final would have been a dramatic – and deserved - return to form for Wallace pupil Stuart McCollam as he raced to the opening set 21-18 against Scott Guildea but it was not to be as Guildea came back to book his semi-final against the top seeded Sean Patrick Laureta.
The eagerly awaited confrontation between Laureta and Matthew Cheung in the quarter-final very nearly didn’t even materialise as Cheung’s doubles partner Vincent Pantonosa raced to the opening set 24-22 in their opening round clash.
Though Cheung was to power his way through to the second set 21-13 Cheung had to call on all his nous on a badminton court to see him through 21-18 and into a quarter-final against a player ranked over 20 places higher than him.
Cheung was certainly not at his best, losing 21-17 21-15 but he nevertheless was to capture the Boy’s Doubles title partnering Vincent Pontanosa.
Their opening match saw them easing through 21-14 21-13 against Stuart McCollam and Dylan Noble before ending the hopes of the No2 seeds Benjamin Darragh and Daniel O’Meara 21-12 21-19 in just 24 minutes, adding the scalps of David and Kevin Downey, the victors over top seeds Jack Armstrong and Sean Patrick Laureta in the quarter-final without too much trouble 21-12 21-12.
A second title narrowly eluded Cheung when the unseeded Cheung and Sophia Noble knocked out the No2 seeds Michael Staunton and Kerry Fallon 21-17 21-15 on their way to the final which was a wonderful climax to a day of top class badminton.
Facing Daniel O’Meara and Alexandra Troy, who had knocked out the top seeds Sean Patrick Laureta and Orla Flynn in a thrilling semi-final 21-17 10-21 21-16 it had spectators on the edge of their seats.
Cheung and Noble dominated the early exchanges and held an 11-3 advantage at the interval of the first set with just THREE MINUTES gone but had to fight off a stern resistance as their opponents fought back before the set came to an end 21-15 in favour of Cheung and Noble.
The second was a totally different contest though and there was only a couple of points separating the two partnerships at the interval but O’Meara and Troy snatching the lead 17-16 and taking the match into a deciding set 21-19.
O’Meara and Troy were to enjoy an 11-7 advantage at the interval at which time exhaustion must have taken hold for the Cheung/Noble partnership and having put so much energy sapping play into trying to seal the victory in the final stages of the second – and Miss Noble having won both the Girl’s Singles and Doubles – there was simply nothing left in the tank and they succumbed 21-13.
Without question a factor which may have played a part in losing that Mixed Doubles final was that Matthew was actually on court for NINE matches lasting a total of nigh on four hours.