Early morning on Day 7 and the competing Irish Open contingent @ Carrickmines are resplendent in their whites, evocative of Real Madrid but thankfully without the whiff of Francoism.
The concurrent Carrickmines Classic is a Tennis Ireland invite-only competition for the top 10 women and men tennis players in the country. A 3 day weekend event with a purse of €800 euro for both men and ladies. Federation and Davis Cup players are engaged in matches of extreme quality tennis on the artificial grass. Look out for the Stirling University-based Ulsterman Peter Corrie (a serve and volley specialist) and counter-puncher Rachel McCrum.
Croquet tournament supremo Nathaniel Healy is a figure well-versed in Peter Drucker's management principles and he has demonstrated a leadership style this week that is more Peter Cook than Steve Jobs. The playing cast are in thrall to a lawn game of unsurpassed beauty, surely a flow state activity as originally defined by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. Healy's late- evening whatsapped order of play (delivered via chemical products doyen Looney) oft prompts some textual interjections, such is life in a constitutional republic founded on Socratic ideals. Aikido expert Healy is said to be one of the finest legal brains this country has produced (Frank Martin might have something to say about that). After the USCA Salver scheduling mix-up this week, Sylvia Briggs wishes to administer Healy a Nintendo Street Fighter-style Chun-Li kick in the goolies...
Glendalough local Danny Johnston has done for Irish croquet what his fellow parishioner St Kevin did for asceticism. The 6"3 dreamboat, Cosmopolitan's 'Most Eligible Bachelor of 2016', is paired with the avuncular Ryan Murphy in the alternate shot doubles. Murphy boasts an athletic giftedness that mirrors his footballing namesake and current association football manager of Cymru. Whereas the young Utd starlet developed first under Eric Harrison at the Cliff and later under the Govan-born legend Sir Alex Ferguson, Murphy is being schooled if not by Johnston than by the croquet missionary Nicola Kelly whose impact on the game has been likened to that of Francis Xavier SJ on 16th century Japan. Murphy and Danny Johnston ended the tournament journey of Andrew Johnston and David Murray after a match of the sort of competitive intensity normally seen when the Gypsies meet Rovers. Murray was laudably economical with his precision play, if only his namesake in the Ibrox boardroom had exhibited similar prudence in the recent past.
In the Steel Cup (plate), Sheila Glennane had the misfortune of meeting Scotland's Sandy Greig, a man whose winning ratio compares favourably to the Phil Jackson Michael Jordan era Chicago Bulls. Greig's tactical astuteness has been likened to Marshall Tito's delicate handling of the then Yugoslavia's twin Cold War allies in Moscow and Washington. 23-11 to Greig, the margin there. Also in the plate event, Anne Marie McGowan bested Mark McCann 14-2 with a series of strokes that might have been lifted straight out of the Cliff Jones textbook, the affable Welshman considered somewhat of a coaching god in these parts.
In the USCA Salver, Max Miller triumphed 10-7 over yachting enthusiast Tim Furlong. Miller originally had a triple play of two tennis matches lined up after his early evening croquet. No need for Ashes legend Ian Botham's Shredded Wheat for the Gonzaga College-schooled Miller, Carrickmines C & LTC is very much keeping his heart healthy!
The succulent sausages served up by Jean and JJ at afternoon tea caused an olfactorial sensation, attracting players from active lawns like Soldiers of Destiny bees to the Galway Races tent honeypot. They tasted so good they are said to have tempted even the staunchest of Ultra Orthodox Jewry. Ann-Marie Pigot's salmon sambos were a similar hit. Where quality sustenance is present, as ever Anne-Marie McGowan is found nearby as a hospitable source of same. Not to mention the Allwrights whose teas reputation precedes them. Brie parcels, spring rolls, sausage rolls...just some of the fare served up today. Credit too to Patricia Burke who has overseen the teas function with aplomb.
Michael O'Shaughnessy and Ross Brennan met Nicola Kelly and Tony Allwright in an association game for the ages. Architectural whiz-kid Brennan, said to be in the running to design the next Guggenheim, is well matched with renaissance man O'Shaughnessy. Their carefully crafted plays speak of a telepathy. Allwright was stunningly effective in much of what he did whilst Kelly made an impact with the type of strategic powerplay that won a Drumcondra Bass drinker 3 Dáil premierships. The game hinged on a clinical 15 yard roquet by Brennan under the most extreme pressure. There was an opposition ball at his hoop (2 back) but he executed coaching guru Dave Alred's TCUP (think clearly under pressure) philosophy brilliantly. The pair still had much work to do but they ran hoops with a steely determination to pull clear.
In the Newell Candlestick on lawn 3, the classy play of supreme technician Ann Woulfe-Flanagan met its match versus stylist Richard Whelan.
The alternate shot doubles final saw the Oxbridge pair of Danny Johnston and Michael O'Shaughnessy face off alongside their much-heralded youthful sidekicks in Ryan Murphy and Ross Brennan respectively. Murphy is soon to commence a short internship at a financial leviathan prior to hitting London town. Brennan's intentions are unknown. I would advise him to repair to a bookies post haste to put everything he owns on the bhoys winning the title, thus fulfilling the Marian prophecy: "In the end, my immaculate heart will triumph - 10 in a row." Johnston and Murphy went round to Rover early doors with their opposition having both balls on 2. O'Shaughnessy and Brennan mounted a staunch recovery, bringing the game to a golden hoop. Johnston missed a 13 yard cross-lawn roquet leaving the opponents with a tiny rush to their hoop (3-back). A thin take-off was required. Brennan delivered a beaut and O'Shaughnessy ran the hoop from close range to seal the Ann Woulfe-Flanagan Alternate Stroke Doubles trophy.
An special mention is due to the broad-shouldered youthful Clongownian, Christopher Martin, who is rapidly developing into a croquet colossus. His impact this week reminds one of 16 year old Manchester United and Norn Iron manboy, Norman Whiteside, who made waves at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
In the handicap singles, Max Miller took on Michael O'Shaughnessy in a match promising intensity and intrigue. Polyglot O'Shaughnessy, boasting the trim physique of a professional athlete, faced a barrage of Miller attacks early doors. O'Shaughnessy tried to repel the efforts of the Silver Fox with some clever defensive ploys and then to go on the counter as if taking instruction from Atletico Madrid gaffer, Diego Simeone. Miller, however, had used only 3 of his 11 bisques to get to peg with one of his balls with the other on 2. The game had a bit of everything: alchemic break-building, nerveless roquets, delicious rolls and angled hoop-running. The denouement saw a chuffed Miller march on with a comprehensive win. He will face Nathaniel Healy in the final. It can truly be said that like ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, Miller knows how to win. The watching Healy was heard to comment, "Max is grossly overbisqued." Let's not bring chowder into this !
Newell Candlestick action on lawn 4, Patricia Burke facing Ann Woulfe-Flanagan in a battle royale and Duncan Styles agin Tony Allwright in a showdown of tenacity versus derring-do. Woulfe-Flanagan took the spoils 11-3.
A lawn 1 handicap doubles tension-fest featuring Nicola Kelly and Sandy Greig versus the Martins went the way of the former after Greig and Kelly opened their magic box of croquet skills to take the match by 15 hoops to 7. The latter pair are worthy handicap doubles competition winners, having annexed both sides of the draw.
In the championship doubles (Ann Healy trophy), Danny Johnston was partnered by namesake Andy versus Simon Williams and Dave McGrath. Danny went round to 4-back before executing a New Standard Leave. Their opponents were slow out of the blocks, with the bassoonist on 2 and taxman on 4 whilst Andy played the waiting game, in the absence of Hungry Hungry Hippos. The internationalist soon went round and set about peeling Danny's ball through 4-back and finishing out. Truly one of the game's cognoscenti, Andy makes it look all so easy. The round robin format leaves McGrath and Williams hopeful of an improved showing next time out. They soon faced a Looney and Osborne Burke pairing whose Advanced Play games are both match-hardened following Green Cup action this week. Looney played a superb roll shot from corner 4 to approach hoop 1 as a preamble to constructing a stunning 4 ball break, effecting a standard leave with his ball on 4-back. Williams missed the lift shot from B-baulk, letting Osborne Burke in. Osborne-Burke proved Looney doesn't have the copyright on composure, as he closed out with 1 ball stand of impeccable execution in a fine 26-17 win. When queried for his reaction after the defeat, Williams professed: "I didn't think it was possible to have a game with seven anti-climaxes !"
Healy and Greig faced the Johnstons in a championship doubles round robin on lawn 2. Greig could blissfully contemplate his already-bagged silverware in the handicap doubles, being heard to comment, "I love the smell of silvo in the morning." The kilt- wearing hoop dreamer is a permanent fixture on the winning rostrum. Healy is more of a stony-eyed realist, the result of a career at the pinnacle of the corporate law ball game. Ultimately, the Johnstons had too much for the brace of veteran hoopmen, another +26 TP win for them there.
Frank Martin met Gerard Osborne Burke in the Green Cup block game in a pearler of a game on lawn 1 to help settle final pre-knockout standings, Osborne Burke the victor.
Tomorrow is finals day, all are welcome to come along to watch the action unfold.