The opening two days of the 2020 Irish Championships of Association Croquet have been akin to a starburst of celestial play from the brightest stars in the croquet firmament. The current pandemic has changed life considerably but a resolute crew of the game's staunchest supporters grabbed both mallet and the deis speisialta(special opportunity) to exhibit their talents on a befitting stage. Outstanding lawns on Day 1, prepared by master agronomist Simon Williams, had some competitors dreaming of the afternoon's Wembley FA Cup centre piece as the first balls departed A baulk and B baulk at the start of morning's play.
Handicap singles and doubles accounted for Saturday's schedule. On lawn 1, Mark McCann faced an onerous task against Championship contender Danny Johnston. The match featured both strategic masterplay and technical flourish, with Johnston winning out 26-13 . Meanwhile, Andrew Johnston was locked in tense matchplay versus the metronomic Gerard Osborne Burke. Johnston took the spoils, +18 tp the denouement there.
Lawn 2 saw Nicola Kelly display a cool temperament and intricate shotmaking in dispatching Dave McGrath with ease by 20 hoops to 6. Karen Davidson Perrins' polished play enabled her to best the redoubtable challenge of Geraldine O'Rourke 18-15.
Frank Martin bested Alan Looney 26-7 in a game of no little skill whilst Nigel Werner eclipsed Michael O'Shaughnessy by 2 hoops.
Lawn 4 saw the clash of Max Miller and Anne-Marie McGowan with the latter triumphant by 15 hoops to 10 whilst the esteemed duo of Nathaniel Healy and Sandy Greig played out a high quality contest with Healy the victor, +10.
Helena served up a sumptuous lunch of beef and Guinness pie on Saturday with a follow up Sabbath offering of succulent roast lamb or turkey. All very well received by the competing players.
Afternoon tea has been similarly delicious. Thanks must go to Ann Marie McGowan, Patricia Burke, Tony Allwright & Gráinne Corban.
The afternoon's handicap doubles play brought more pedigree fare unto this corner of south Dublin. Lawn 1 witnessed Myles McWeeney teaming up with Ryan Murphy in a successful bid to vanquish Geraldine O'Rourke and Tim Furlong with a scoreline of 19 hoops to 15.
Michael O'Shaughnessy and Ann Marie Pigot displayed deft touches and tactical cunning in dispatching Gerald Osborne Burke and Max Miller by 26 to 17.
Lawn 2 saw a fine win for the Martins - Frank and Christopher vs Ann Marie McGowan and Sylvia Briggs (17-10).
Alan Looney and Mark McCann enjoyed a stylish 23 to 7 victory against Tony Allwright and Richard Whelan.
Elsewhere, lawn 3 witnessed a Simon Williams and Patricia Burke double act as they overcame Dave McGrath and Bobbi Gillespie despite some outstanding shots by the young Gillespie. Messrs Werner and Douglas succumbed to the sharpshooting Sandy Greig and Nicola Kelly with Nicola clinching the deciding hoop late doors.
Day 2 brought with it the tantalising prospect of Glasgow Celtic's 10 in a row quest kicking off proper and of course, more high octane croquet to sate the appetite for those given to such hearty sustenance.
Williams and Burke went on to account for the challenge presented by Danny Johnston and Niamh Walshe via a 20-16 scoreline. Nicola Kelly's winning record thus far was extended further with an 18-8 victory against Karen Davidson-Perrins. The Martins repeated their earlier doubles victory, this time Gerard Osborne Burke and Max Miller suffered the fate of the vanquished.
Gerard Osborne Byrne's reward for demolishing the Founder Cup hopes of Dave McGrath is a late afternoon showdown with the indomitable Sandy Greig, a man who could have taught a thing or two about defensive excellence to Helenio Herrera.
The doyen of managers, Nathaniel Healy, met his match on lawn 3 versus Frank Martin whilst Simon Williams and Patricia Burke are still engaged in a tough encounter versus Geraldine O'Rourke and Tim Furlong as we go to press.
Sandy Greig and Nicola Kelly are in a ding dong contest with Mark McCann and Alan Looney.
There is much still to be played for as the week progresses.