Report by Jack Clingan.
The 2016 Golf Croquet World Team Championships were hosted in May by CA with the Irish team competing in the Tier 1 competition at Surbiton. Jack Clingan (c), Charlie von Schmieder, Evan Newell, Simon Williams, and Patsy Fitzgerald had been in preparation for the event from the end of 2015, ably co-ordinated by team manager Danny Johnston. Several sessions focussed on lawn practice, tactical discussion and psychological preparation (with the assistance of Neil O’Brien) had the team in a confident mood heading into their opening group game against the holders, Egypt.
That optimism was soon curbed by a 6-0 humbling on Day 1, though the scoreline belied some strong Irish play. Day 2, against the higher seeded USA, had been identified early as a critical tie for the team, with the winner favourite to progress to the semi-finals. Evan rotated into the team in place of Charlie and a hotly-contested affair saw a drawn test with both the doubles and the singles splitting evenly. Day 3 saw the Irish captain dropped for lack of form, and the result was soon vindicated by a 5-1 defeat of the Swedes, the one loss coming late in the day with the team 5-0 up and attention turning towards a playoff with the USA for a berth in the semi-finals.
The playoff got off to a fine start with Patsy running Hoops 1 and 2 in a single stroke and then jawsing 4 from the North boundary to take a 4-0 lead in his single-game match against Danny Honeycutt. Irish hopes turned to the doubles where Evan and Simon were favoured (by the Irish, at least) against the American pairing of Sherif Abdelwahab and David Bent. However, they were soon drawn back to the second singles match where Charlie triumphed against the American number one, Ben Rothman, coolly dispatching several fantastic jump-shots and a brave Hoop 13 to secure victory for Ireland.
The semi-final against the Kiwis got off to a tough start with both of the morning doubles lost on Hoop 13 of the third game from a winning position. Credit though to a strong New Zealand team (losing finalists four years ago in Johannesburg) who showed their quality to take a 6-0 lead at the end of the first day’s play. The lead proved too much to overcome in the end, though Patsy and Jack (back in the team in place of Simon) at least avoided the ignominy of a whitewash by defeating the #1 Kiwi pairing of Duncan Dixon and Phillip Drew in the second day’s doubles.
Friday then was a 3rd/4th playoff against the hosts England, who had done no better than the Irish in their semi-final against the top-seeded Egyptians. Regrettably, this test took a similar shape to the previous round, with the English completing a 6-0 sweep including several close matches (Stephen Mulliner twice making Hooping 13 against Jack, and Evan jumped no fewer than seven times in his match by Tobi Savage). However, the team turned things around on the final day and finished strong, winning all three matches, including a spectacular recovery from 6-3 in the third game of his match against Lionel Tibble from Simon (back in place of Patsy). Dignity duly restored to the 6-3 scoreline and 4th place accepted as a decent result from the week.
Elsewhere on the lawns the final saw a repeat of 2012 with top seeds Egypt and New Zealand competing in a high-quality battle. This time it was New Zealand who prevailed, with some supreme play upsetting the favourites and holders. In the 7th/8th playoff, a nervous affair saw the South Africans overcome the Welsh, who have been relegated to Tier 2. Congratulations to the Australians who won their promotion back to the top division in the Tier 2 event in Bath.
On reflection, 4th place was a solid result for the Irish team who can look back on the week with a certain amount of satisfaction and optimism for future events. The tournament was superbly hosted by Surbiton, where the lawns, lunches, refreshments and members were uniformly congenial. Special thanks to Joe McGowan who arranged transport for the Irish team in London. This, combined with the AirBnB rental of a house in Epsom for the week, contributed significantly to both team spirit and vastly simplified logistics, driving the strong performance on the lawns.
See official team photo in Right Hand Column.