Saturday, July 31st 2021 was destined to be a special moment in time. The Olympics of Irish association croquet (by way of the Irish Championships) started in earnest today at Carrickmines Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club.
Ó thús na paindéim (from the start of the pandemic), we sought a way out of the dianghlasáil (lockdown). Hope came in the form of nerd-begot vaccines and the resumption of a lawn game that is positively transformative. Rupert Murdoch has yet to televisually monetise the splendour of croquet despite the soft liltings of a sweetly-natured Texan who sent Mick Jagger firmly to the boundary.
As time has passed we have become accustomed to terms such as scaradh sóisialta (social distancing) and díghalrán láimh (hand sanitiser). Now things have turned for the better and we can take to the lawns with the Corinthian spirit that makes this game so magical. The expression of our féiniúlacht chultúrtha (cultural identity) via the medium of croquet is as much part of us as darkened stools following the necking of black sugared water and obligatory makey uppie earners from the likes of the Covester and Zappo.
Getting in and staying in (to make hoops); Much like Belorussian presidential politics. Alot depends on the quality of the freasúra (opposition). Can you go on a classic counter in the manner of a Rafa Benitez-coached outfit? Applying pressure via the grabbing of the oppo's conkers like Gene Hackman in that scene from Mississippi Burning.
On day 1, we were privy to some exciting match-ups. Lawn 1 saw the handicap doubles showdown between wine-saineolaí (expert) and Green Cup favourite Nigel Werner, his esteemed playing partner Duncan Styles and the redoubtable duo of O'Sullivan and Bennett. The latter exudes class on the lawns whilst his partner's playing fluency has been compared to his namesake the Rocket, cleaning up on the Goffs baize. Styles and Werner succumbed to their illustrious oppo (12-18) after some steady break play from O'Sullivan and Herbert Parker Bennett.
Gerard Osborne Burke has wintered well, his upcoming debut in the blue riband Championship Singles is as hotly anticipated as the day Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg stepped onto the Carraigh Mhaigheann lawns for a pre-Wimby hit. Like former club Uachtarán (President) Alan Looney, his championship credentials were firmly established during a 2020 Green Cup campaign of power, touch and tactical cunning. Osborne Burke was too strong for Tim Furlong in the handicap singles on 1, his marriage of croquet savoir-faire and technical prowess a most potent cocktail (26-5).
The aforementioned Looney took to lawn 2 early doors today agin battler supreme, Robert Miller. Miller was a nationally ranked athlete i bláth na hóige (in the bloom of youth) and has passed on the baton to the likes of Thomas Barr and that bird off the Centra ads. The start to Looney's managerial reign at the helm of this week's tournament has, in the words of 2019/2020 SPL-clinching gaffer, Steven Gerrard, gone "ever so well." Precision play from the Knocksinna man had him make an early break versus his opponent who perhaps lamented leaving his bróga reatha (running shoes) at home. Looney is revered on Junction 15 as a Madiba-type figure minus the obvious grounding in Marxist theory and eclectic shirt selection. He wields his über-modern ergonomic mallet like a young Ben Hogan did his hickory shafted one iron in the Forth Worth of his youth. A touch of strife late on for the engineering oracle after he roqueted the same ball twice. The competition gaffer overcame this minor stumble to take the game by 26 hoops to 20.
Also on lawn 2, Russell Harris and Sheila Glennane took on Sylvia Briggs and Dave McGrath in a handicap doubles clash. Not much between them bisques-wise. Briggs made the first two hoops with a series of clever shots but Harris gained the lámh in uachtar (upper hand) early on with a 12 hoop maximum break. Glennane was imperious throughout, strolling to 4-back with the nonchalance of a Patsy Fitz'. A 21-5 toradh(result) can but bolster the féin-mhuinín (self-confidence) as the draw enfolds.
Redemptive suffering: the Judaeo-Christian idea of getting absolutely scuttered on altar wine and the penance of a hangover maidin amárach (the next morning). Following their 1st round defeat, the Briggs McGrath pairing atoned for their initial loss with a 2 life process 22-5 win versus O'Rourke and Furlong.
Simon Williams has more talent in his left nostril than most have in their humana corpus. Of course, hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard. Áfách (however), in terms of his body of work as a doctor of soil and foilage, Williams' Lawns 1 to 4 stand as a magnus opus without peer. When he takes to the lawn with mallet in hand, he is by nature enigmatic but never less than full value. Of the lucht féachana faoi láthair (spectators present) today, few if any will have witnessed talents that outshine his. Ed Cunningham possesses a skill that is seldom found in Eurasia - an ability to run angled hoops at pace from topographically diverse lies. Sadly he has moved to the Land of the Silver Fern where his croquet talents can be witnessed by a rugged, outdoors people of considerable rugby football acumen. Today, post-repast and a Killarney IPA of exquisite taste, Williams strode onto lawn 1 to partner Tony Allwright in aghaidh (against) a Terence Woulfe-Flanagan Gerard Osborne Burke pairing. Allwright brings taithí cuimsitheach (comprehensive experience) from pedigree brewing and the croquet technique of a man who is extremely cumasach (capable). T W-F was here ag cleachtadh (practicing) Dé Máirt (Tuesday) and has developed the croquet smarts of a bona fide contender. É sin go léir ráite (that said), Allwright and Williams used all of their accumulated eolas (knowledge) to eclipse their opponents in a swashbuckling display. A 26-17 win coming by way of two 4 and 5 hoop Allwright breaks.
The Johnstons have something about them, a winning pedigree hewn from hours on the practice lawn and a croquet DNA that guarantees finals' day contention. They don't mess about. An evening ale might accompany a victory but only when Rover has been run and pegging out executed with the nonchalance borne of the achiever class. This afternoon, a salivating handicap singles match featured East Glendalough alum' Danny Johnston versus Frank Martin. Martin is said to have a superb home lawn that has been cultivated with soil from the Crimea. Alas, Johnston had too much for the legal doyen. One suspects that the prospect of facing the Oxbridge boffin will lead many to reach for the brown trousers as the week's action unfolds. A trip to mind guru Bob Rotella might be worth the outlay or perhaps the cheaper option of loading up on the pre-match gargle from Frank's namesake, Remy.
Danny Johnston is rapidly fulfilling the role of the croquet Maschiach (messiah) as foretold by the Dead Sea Scrolls. A stellar talent and an exceedingly pleasant chap. There was a collective intake of breath, however, when Johnston stuck in hoop 4 on a one yard hoop run attempt. Even the greats are fallible - witness Boyzone's 2nd album. Danny did repatriate the bacon in the end, by a 26-15 margin. Following afternoon tea at 4pm, the 6"3 dreamboat Johnston took on Nigel Werner in the handicap singles. Danny is widely considered the Warren Beatty of this younger glúine (generation). Brawn meets brains in the shape of the handsome rugby footballer par excellence.
The 2021 championship promises much by way of quality croquet. We are looking for a major foilseacháin (publication) to evangelise the gospel of croquet in parts of the country where people typically spend 70 minutes of the Sabbath hitting each other with sticks or palming a large round ball to each other (seemingly owned by a chap called O'Neill) under the pretence of what they call "retention of possession." What croquet lacks in terms of "honest endeavour" ( read skid-marked jock straps, ACL tears and referee assaults), it makes up in a cultured cognitive bonanza.
There are those of course who merely aspire to break bread at the top table where the luminaries break wind liberally on a diet of Bordeaux and sextuple peel theory. Nathaniel Healy feasts at that very banquet, his bon mots frequently a source of mirth amongst the croquet cognoscenti. He had a bye in the first round of the handicap singles and could afford to savour impossibly rich Italian coffee whilst Mssrs Looney and Miller slugged it out to face the Newcastle horseman. Looney went to peg off his first ball (green) from the outset. Both men were to exchange hoops before Healy pulled away to take the spoils 26-17.
Geraldine O'Rourke bases her playing philosophy on the Japanese continuous self-improvement theorem of "kaizen". She met a game Myles McWeeney in a handicap singles clash on lawn 2. The latter scribe is well known to readers of the Irish Independent, the best-selling daily in this statelet some call Éire. To beat O'Rourke you need oodles of poise and the ability to run hoops faoi bhrú (under pressure). Keeping the balls on the path between hoops is a belter of a tip from the arch-strategist Simon Williams. McWeeney knows this and more but a close-fought O'Rourke win resulted (17-14).
Equality of opportunity and not of outcome might be the goal of ardent socialists this world over. To that end, the existence of superb local residential croquet lawns (plural) in Newcastle, Co. Wicklow should doubtlessly be a case study for nationwide cultivation of same from Neilstown to Newtownbutler. Whilst street skateboarding has taken its place at the Olympics in Tokyo, surely the time will come when association croquet assumes its place at the acme of global sporting endeavours? Until that day, we can console ourselves that we possess a game strong enough to unite both Orangeman and Rome adherent-alike in a love of afternoon tea and stop shot.
The Derry socialist Eamon McCann has oft-spoken of the need to seek a feabhsaíocht (improvement) in the caighdeán maireachtála (living standard) of the lucht oibre (working class) in both the Shankill and Falls Road areas. Legendary Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly saw football as an extension of his socialist philosophy, everybody working hard together and sharing the rewards. Of course, when tried in practice it has resulted in the top brass enjoying foie gras on the shores of the Caspian Sea whilst the masses dined on spam on toast in soulless high rises. Could association croquet represent the panacea that might one day in the words of Bartholomew Ahern see the boom times get "boomier"?
In a Green Cup opener on lawn 4, Myles McWeeney quickly annexed the first five hoops versus Dave McGrath. A glass of valpolicella was a soothing balm as the gap grew, twinned with Anne-Marie McGowan's magnificent chocolate cake. The game gathered momentum, both men wasting deiseanna (opportunities) before McWeeney won out. The prize-winning wordsmith was heard to remark in the wake of his 26-18 win: "We both suffered from hoopitis, a condition of the nervous system." (!)
Max Miller, luxuriantly barneted, but minus mallet stood by watching day 1 proceedings. Proof positive of Vidal Sassoon's dictum that volume is everything.The dual code Carrickminder had just sauntered off the synthetic clay show court on one where his afternoon doubles net play was evocative of McNasty and Peter Fleming in their pomp.
A fine start to a tumultuous week.