Day 4 of the 2020 Irish Championships meant the commencement of the hotly anticipated Alternate Shot Doubles. A rare chance to watch the elite of Irish croquet (your Johnstons', your Williams') dovetail with the champions of tomorrow in the type of aesthetic croquet that leaves a pleasant aftertaste of ale and victory.
Former club president Alan Looney (his 2017 to 2019 tenure is widely regarded as a golden epoch) teamed up with current croquet committee member Patricia Burke to offer a significant obstacle to the tournament progression of the even-tempered duo of Richard Whelan and Mark McCann. Whelan's canny shot selection was at times evocative of his namesake, Ronnie, the midfield alchemist who entered Kop folklore whilst McCann was nerveless and technically faultless in much of what he did. Alas, the craft of Looney and fearlessness of Burke was not enough, pipped as they were by 11 hoops to 10.
Max Miller's Founder Cup campaign continues apace as he firstly saw off the challenge of Anne-Marie McGowan and then Frank Martin. Martin pegged out Miller's ball late doors ensuring a tense finale. Miller's dramatic win owed much to laser guided long distance roquets and clutch hoop-running under pressure.
On lawn 1, championship thoroughbred Andy Johnson and his protégé David Murray oozed class throughout their 18-6 win over Karen Davidson-Perrins and Gemma Corr. Credit must go to Corr whose transition from golf croquet to association has been as seamless of that of Jonathan Davies in his move from rugby union to league back in the day.
Lawn 2 played host to the magisterial Simon Williams who was paired with the fledgling talent Bobbi Gillespie against Dave McGrath and Anne-Marie Pigot. Pigot displayed touch and élan in equal measure, however, Williams and Gillespie were relentlessly excellent in a 26-3 win. Young Gillespie nonchalantly ran hoop 1 from the south boundary in her opening shot. One to watch for sure.
The extravagantly gifted Danny Johnston and novice marksman Ryan Murphy saw off the competitive pairing of Geraldine O'Rourke and Nigel Werner by 21 hoops to 13.
Newell Candlestick action on lawn 4 pitted Ann Woulfe-Flanagan versus Tony Allwright with the latter gaining the upper hand by 7 hoops to 6. In the USCA Salver, Max Miller continued his winning habit with a 15-8 victory over John McAuley.
Early afternoon action in the Green Cup brought with it the enticing clash of Championship doubles partners Gerard Osborne Burke and Alan Looney. Looney adopted classic European away tactics at the outset, his cagey play garnering a 5 hoop start. In adopting a clever leave, he left it all to do for his opponent, winning 26-5 in the end.
Nigel Werner also met his (handicap) doubles partner Geraldine O'Rourke on lawn 3. Werner's knowledge of the unique topography of these lawns coupled with his love of grape could perhaps bear rich dividend for the club if it ever decides to convert its lawns into Ireland's first world class vineyard. Alas, in doing so, the club would be denied the sight of Nigel's outstanding play - which was enough here to bag a 26-5 win against Geraldine whose own croquet knowledge would fill the DLR Lexicon library. It must be said that in advance of his Green Cup showdown, Gerard Osborne Burke was seen putting on a stringed doubles masterclass à la McEnroe/Fleming on tennis show court #1 prior to exchanging singles baseline winners off both forehand and backhand with the omnipresent Max Miller. That sporting versatility is a much prized asset when club representative honours are handed out.
Lawn 2 saw a handicap singles face-off between two of the most talented players this island boasts. Andy Johnston ultimately prevailed against his namesake Danny by 26 hoops to 11. It was a match that delivered on all of the fundamentals: break-building, precision roquets, measured approaches and sumptuous split shots. Exhibition play from the Wicklow men.
Michael O'Shaughnessy met Sandy Greig in a Founder Cup game that set opportunistic hoop runner versus defensive mastermind. A dry morning gave away to sunny early afternoon skies and a fresh cross-lawn zephyr as O'Shaughnessy beat the Scot 26-21 in this battle of the plus 1 handicappers.
Some more USCA Salver action saw a clever win for Tim Furlong over Anne-Marie McGowan and an assured Terence Woulfe Flanagan "W" versus John McAuley.
In the Newell Candlestick, Duncan Styles displayed technique and tenacity in eclipsing Ann Woulfe Flanagan by 10 hoops to 3 whilst Richard Whelan played some superlative croquet in overcoming the stiff resistance presented by Patricia Burke, 8-3 the margin there.
Dave McGrath Photo Gallery.