Day 6 of the Irish Championships and both competitor and spectator alike have reached a point of fevered anticipation last seen in the country when a Polish goalkeeper (Karol Wojtyla) kissed the tarmac at Dublin Airport on account of a rumoured mint flavouring. The following event may not have actually taken place (W/O).
Lawn 1 saw the incomparable Michael O'Shaughnessy renew his partnership with El Pichichi, Ross Brennan, a prolific hooprunner of some repute. The last Irishman to earn Brennan's sobriquet was a 'tached Liverpuddlian who owed his international career to Big Jack and a Basque La Liga odyssey that saw him as Donostia-based Real Sociedad's first overseas signing. Brennan and O'Shaughnessy's alternate shot doubles showdown with the bronzed hotshot Gerard Osborne Burke and consistently excellent Terence Woulfe-Flanagan, promised much by way of drama. The younger duo raced into an early lead, helped by industrial strength coffee and lashings of talent. Brennan was heard conversing en Français with O'Shaughnessy at regular intervals,"Bien joué" floating across the Carrickmines lawn airwaves as the St Columba's chalkman carried out clever clutch shots with the finesse of a Gallic administrator par excellence, tasked with dismembering Blighty from the federal superstate of Europe whose funds-rich colustrum has turned an appreciative Éire into the proud nation state we are today.
Internationalist Osborne Burke exerted telling influence at this point in the match, conspiring with a compliant Woulfe Flanagan to make hoops of sublime execution and no little skill. The younger men march on to the next round like be-sashed brethren on a Lambeg-soundtracked summer stroll.
Lawn 2 played host to some remarkable croquet in the blue riband Championship event. Newcastle break-builder Nathaniel Healy met Andy Johnston in a match of unrelenting quality. Johnston sleeps contentedly with his Championship credentials a matter of record. Healy has the supple tactical mind indicative of a sharp intellect and a life spent reading books and solving legal conundrums. He ran a hoop from downtown early doors that sent neutrals into paroxysms of delight. Andy took the match 2-0 despite the aesthete Healy pulling off shots that are beyond the cognitive conjuring of many.
In a simultaneous treat for the lucht féachana (audience), Danny Johnston crossed mallets with Simon Williams in a lawn 1 contest pre-hyped by Eddie Hearn as one for the ages. Williams played Sugar Ray to Johnston's Roberto Duran in an exhibition of top-class croquet. Johnston breathes the rarefied air of someone who has advanced beyond doctorate level. Yet in conversation with plebs, he is impossibly pleasant: both engaging and well-mannered. Many predict that Johnston's contribution to the Irish nation will dwarf that of TK Whitaker. The civil service mandarin, author of a famed transformative economic White Paper, is better known for having a red lemonade named in his honour.
Simon Williams has a winning pedigree forged across decades of competition whilst Danny's croquet progression has accelerated markedly without the use of protein synthesis-aiding supplements yet he still boasts the physique of a modern international back row forward. I can't speak of his mobility about the training paddock but I am told he has performed most admirably in the 0-40m sprint test favoured by NFL recruiters. Quite whether he has the limpet-like foraging ability of a Dan Leavy I cannot say but given his croquet and academic credentials, it would be worth Gatland taking a punt on Johnston ahead of a summer on the Highveld. Williams lived on campus as a Trinity scholar, an honour also bestowed on John Francis Martin who has of course gone on to make the finals of open week his very own personal fiefdom.
Williams' in-game opening gambit versus Danny Johston was an impudent Duffer tice and it set up the clash perfectly. Williams owes his early schooling to the same Rock Road nursery that produced Eamon de Valera and Brian O'Driscoll. Neither Williams nor O'Driscoll have ever refused their country's call but in electing to send 5 plenipotentiaries (including one Michael Collins) to London to negotiate the fateful Anglo Irish tready of December 1921, can we take it that Dev himself would have lacked the bottle for a McWeeney away showdown versus the CA ? Williams was heard humming mellifluously midway through his day's opener. The tune was originally touted as that of Bach's Brandenburg concerto no. 4, however, it was later established to be Boyzone's "Love me for a reason." Williams and Johnston were tied 1-all at lunchtime with the latter having gone round with 1 ball prior to repairing for a repast of considerable merit. The Wicklow native took temporary leave to attend a job interview at this point. It is thought Johnston turned up in an under-dressed manner, obviously aware of Wilde's quote about being over-educated.
In the Green Cup, Indo scribe Myles McWeeney out-thought a pedestrian Dave McGrath with a masterclass in nerveless scoring.
The thoughts of many this week are with absent friends; Championship habitué, Evan Newell - a man whose middle initials (G.B.) hint perhaps at his stance on the national question and someone who produces massive power technically, especially in the golf croquet format. Renowned horseman Newell has been known to produce some of his best results abroad where his fast-paced croquet action finds dryer conditions and a less waffle-averse audience. I expect if present, the handicapping Meathman would shave several strokes off the magnificent Christopher Martin whose play this week has been compellingly superb.
Patsy Fitzgerald, possessed of a unique languid style and said to be the inspiration for Jeff Bridges' character in The Big Lebowski, is usually there or thereabouts at the business end of proceedings. Alas, injury has denied us the pleasure of viewing Patsy's outstanding play this week. Ed Cunningham departed these shores for the Land of the Silver Fern in the early part of the last decade. New Zealand is home to the rugby great, Wayne 'Buck' Shelford who famously lost a testicle in the 'Battle of Bordeaux' of '86 whereupon Buck having made the jock -strapped discovery, initially played on. No wonder it took us so long to beat these folks !
Cunningham is a natural at the game of croquet, allegedly attracting the name "Edward Mallethands" at a point in time when current tabloid fixture Johnny Depp was trimming hedges prolifically in a celluloid bob-a-job special of similar sounding. The ex-Carrickminder - a multiple national champion, is now betrothed, fecund and enjoing regular kite-surfing in the glorious setting of a land with a leader who leads, not a leader who tweets.