Day 5 of the Irish Open was one for the purists; stellar croquet effortlessly delivered by a diverse collection of white-clad fashionistas. The sybaritic Simon Williams, very much a bassoon playing maestro, (and an alumnus of Trinity College Dublin just like Oscar Wilde, Danny Johnston and Bally'er's Joe Duffy) is already assured of his place in the pantheon of Irish croquet. How does one maintain motivation having already repeatedly plotted a successful course to the mountaintop ? We mere mortals may never know, yet our love and desire to spread the gospel of croquet is commensurate with that of a Born Again convertee, freshly dunked in the cooling waters of southern Alabama.
The championship proper started today. We can talk of wheat and chaff separation or rather of a shared commonality of croquet - from each, according to his/her entry form; to each, according to his/her bisques. Enter the Sandman: Greig, whose own transformation from Newell Candlestick participant to Championship challenger is akin to the Stackstown Golf Club to thrice major winner career trajectory of Padraig Harrington.
Lawn 2 was the scene for the early morning seismic clash featuring the pedigree play of the aforementioned Williams and the guile and touch of Greig. Williams emerged victorious in game 1 by 26 to 24. Scottish sharpshooter Greig missed a chance to clinch the opener with both of his balls for peg when his running of Rover lacked sufficient power to facilitate a rush of his partner ball to peg. He was to regret it. Williams effected a clinical finish before both men repaired to the clubhouse for a lunch of salmon. Nathaniel Healy was double banking on 2 in a veritable feast for the neutral. Healy - perhaps the most significant individual to emerge from Wicklow since Charles Stewart Parnell, faced a Michael O'Shaughnessy who had arrived unto the club like a pedaltastic Miguel Indurain on a Trek road bike that would have the Basque 5 time winner of the Tour de France purring in appreciation. Such a cardiac threshold-raising activity meant optimal blood flow for the Oxbridge alum' who wished to send Healy back to his managerial lair to coordinate the timetable of plodder and prodigy alike. Alas, Healy went on to annex the first game by way of triple peel. After lunch, Williams laboured to close out the match 2 nil versus Greig. "It's a shame there had to be a winner", joked Williams as he strolled off the Augusta National-like lawn 2. Sandy missed a chance to execute his first competitive triple peel but can reflect on some outstanding play against exalted opposition.
Meanwhile, Michael O'Shaughnessy levelled the ball game with a 26-11 clinching of game 2. Sa dheireadh (in the end) Newcastle lawman Healy captured the decider, +22 the margin.
Green Cup action saw Kells man Frank Martin face Alan Looney. Martin's croquet talents may well have been foretold in a vellum publication from centuries-old monastic classicists. He met an on-form Looney whose 9 to 5er is at the acme of the engineering industry. A golden hoop separated the protagonists, Looney's Apple iWatch recording an ECG cliffhanger as the fine drama played out on lawn 3.
Starter for 5: life's vicissitudes are perfectly mirrored on the croquet lawns, how does one handle a croqueted ball rolling over lawn perimeter ?
East Glendalough man Danny Johnston, equally at home with pippette or mallet, was paired with Ryan Murphy in the alternate shot doubles versus Sandy Greig and Tim Furlong this afternoon. Murphy has only been playing association for three weeks having breezed to a hat trick of wins on the golf ladder in the manner of a famed son of Camlough leading Celtic of Glasgow through their invincible treble season of 2016/2017. In truth, it seems effortless for the Business and French graduate but in meeting the formidable Greig and Furlong, Murphy faced a challenge of quasi-Sisyphean proportions agin a duo who could shut up shop at any moment à la a Mourinho rearguard action. Johnston provides the type of reassurance you get from international class talent in the croquet and immunology spheres. Furlong only had 2 shots and Sandy one, as the young duo limited their opponents to fleeting lawn visits. A + 26 win for the young Dublin University products marks their card as the pair to be beaten in the remaining rounds.
Andrew Johnston encountered Nicola Kelly in a Founder's Cup game of no little intrigue. The perennial dilemma of when to use one's bisques came to the fore. In egg-chasing at least according to Kiwi World Cup winning coach Graham Henry, the aim of the game is to cross the gain line off first phase possession. Something champion rugby footballer Johnston knows well, having punctured many a defence with his muscular forays. The running of consecutive hoops in association thus creating a break might well solve the bisque conundrum. Whether one should take a bisque to stop the opponent going on a break might also merit discussion. Apropos of this matter, it would perhaps not be advisable to consult the famed RTE Radio 1 Liveline host above. Kelly and Johnston ended up in a 1 ball shoot-out, the odds thereby favouring the internationalist who pulled clear 26-19.
In the Green Cup, Dave McGrath overcame the cultured croquet of Nigel Werner 26-10 thus fulfilling the song lyrics of The Saw Doctors ("Oh, to win just once, that would be enough", he was 0/5 pre-Werner). Myles WcWeeney took down blonde assassin Geraldine O'Rourke by 26 hoops to 19 with a strategic powerplay that was straight out of the Ed Cunningham playbook. Bookies' favourite Conor O'Sullivan was seen off by a 26-4 Gerard Osborne Burke effort that showed off his proclivity to run angled hoops with the minimum of fuss.
Nicola Kelly's grá for croquet reminds one of that of Edson Arantes do Nascimento for the inflated pig's bladder in the Brazil of his youth. When you ally that with croquet nous, you have a genuine contender for a title shot outdoors in a ballpark. As a true life croquet evangelist, she has taken the game to corners of the country normally reserved for huff-and-puff merchant Gaelic footballers and egg-chasing devotees whose original unorthodoxy saw a young William Webb Ellis effect a sporting Great Schism. Many new players have joined the croquet fraternity as a result of Nicola's efforts and for that alone she deserves immense credit. Her 11-7 alternate shot doubles win with Tony Allwright versus Mark McCann and Richard Whelan was achieved with panache and the choicest of tactical gambits.
The technical elegance of Sylvia Briggs, allied to the cool efficiency of Sheila Glennane, combined to give the former Herbert Parkers a considerable chance agin an O'Shaughnessy and Ross Brennan pairing that itself has been earmarked for major honours this week. Brennan seasoned his play with delicate shot-making that was positively McInerneyesque. For the uninitiated, the latter triumvirate of brothers made the Championship winning podium their own in a reign that coincided with low interest rates nationally and a Gini coefficient indicative of true income equality. O'Shaughnessy and Brennan were full value for their 26-4.
Max Miller has that competitive toughness one most recently saw in the pugilistic career of PacMan himself, Manu Pacquiao of the Phillipines. His drive and winning identity was further emboldened by a 16-15 win against Terence Woulfe Flanagan.
Lawn 4 saw an early brace of Newell Candlestick contretemps escalate into full blown Soviet-style brinkmanship with a Tony Allwright Patricia Burke shootout and the clash of Ducan Styles and Richard Whelan. Styles was continually conscious of his next move, prompting an onlooker to remark that he would not look out of place at the Crucible. 11-7 to Styles there. Allwright and Burke engaged in a form of cerebral croquet, Allwright victorious after a tour de force late break that may prompt a re-writing of game theory, 11-4 the outcome.
In the morning's alternate shot doubles, it was a case of interneccine warfare as two cousins sought to outdo each other. All considered, Terence Woulfe Flanagan ran hoops with aplomb after a multitude of successful hit-ins. His partner Gerard Osborne Burke provided his innate tactical acumen as the pair overcame club stalwart Myles McWeeney and the croqueting virtuosa, Ann Woulfe-Flanagan.
Anne-Marie McGowan has Faldoesque powers of concentration and her innate masterly technique is as true as that of the pre-Leadbetter era 6 time Major winner. Alas, this afternoon in the Salver, she faced a Terence Woulfe Flanagan whose own play had much to commend it. Woulfe Flanagan took the spoils 26-12.
Late doors action saw the Murray Mextedesque 'ebb and flow of psychic energy' in the Green Cup go the way of former Uachtaráin Carraig Mhaighinn, Alan Looney. The moustachioed marvel went round to peg on his first ball in a tactical call. He thus conceded a contact in this high stakes Advanced Level game but he had cannily spread the balls. A game Conor O'Sullivan rallied but fell away as Looney raced to a 26-2 win in 84 minutes. Looney is emerging quickly from his Green Cup bloc(k) like a former centrally planned economy keen to escape stifling apparatchiks.