Day 2 of the Co. Dublin's saw great croquet to the fore upon lawns of the customary quality one associates with the inestimable Simon Williams.
The Duff Matthews Cup hints of the hops'n'barley chemistry that make Homer Simpson such a companionable boozehound, at least televisually. After draw and process games, Dave McGrath emerged with the lámh in uachtar (upper hand) agin redoubtable Carrickminder, Nigel Werner. The outcome provided solace for the adherent of the Celtic Football Club faith after a torturous season at the hands of Stephen Gerrard's Govan men.
Ann Woulfe-Flanagan took on Richard Styles in a lawn 3 Phantom clash that was endearingly compelling. The former knows how to navigate the 35 by 28 yarder with aplomb whilst Styles plays with an elegant refinement you usually only get from a Swiss finishing school. Much to admire by way of delicate take-offs and accurate hoop-running here, with Woulfe-Flanagan clinching the game by 8 hoops to 5.
Tony Allwright is reputed to have been a magnificent association footballer in his youth. Much like Roy Maurice from the parish of Mayfield, he is said to have got up and down the park with an engine that was coveted by centracampistas across the Amazon basin. In his lawn 4 clash today with Patricia Burke today, he was met by a croquet intellect as honed as any in the canton of Newcastle-upon-Wicklow. After a ding dong battle of no little skill, Allwright took the spoils by 12 hoops to 4. His winning form in the Phantom trophy was to later continue with an impressive annexing of Richard Whelan.
Day 1 championship action saw Sandy Greig account for the staunch challenge of Danny Johnston. The former national champion watched the Scottish sharpshooter perform a double peel, his game earning compound interest in improvement terms year-on-year since his debut eight years ago. Ní féidir é a shéanadh (it cannot be denied) that the olde order is being shaken up by a new breed of competitor. Just as with a victorious head-to-header in Family Fortunes, their mantra is "play, play !" - to that exhortation, practice is added (laborare es orare) as a beer-swilling Benedictine might say.
Danny Johnston took to lawn 2 around noon with the intent of repatriating the Championship bacon. In exhibiting the Iain Dowie-coined "bouncebackability", his aim was to best the serial contender Nathaniel Healy. Block play allows one to generate form and confidence as one progresses but these goys are the Yiddish real deal Evander - they can all play. Danny could have executed a more precise finish, electing not to peg out his 2nd ball. This let Healy clean up but not without a dramatic end game as he made a sliver contact on one 4 yard roquet. In the words of (ice hockey's) Triple Gold member (coach of winning teams in Stanley Cup; Olympics; World Championship) Mike Babcock: "Winning: the one thing they can't take away from you."
When Mark McCann met Nicola Kelly in the Boxwell Cup handicap singles, spectators speculated on the outcome. Nicola triumphed by one hoop and marches on with a sizable chance of a podium finish.
Alan Looney's development continues apace. His lawn 1 clash versus Simon Williams was always going to deliver in the entertainment stakes. Looney's short back lift is reminiscent of Giuseppe Signori's sweet left peg whereas Williams has a more fulsome playing stroke that has drawn admirers from the land of the Han dynasty. He ran hoop 1 early doors with pink but his backswing on the subsequent roquet effort would have been hampered by the hoop and he had to play safe off the lawn. Even the greats sometimes err, who can forget Bernhard Langer miss a daisy of a 6 footer to reclaim the '91 Ryder Cup for Europe at Kiawah Island? At one point, Looney wired Williams whilst enjoying an accompanying rush to his hoop. If talent is the ability to hit targets others can't hit then genius is the ability to hit targets others can't see. Williams completely redeemed his earlier efforts with a jump shot roquet southward over hoop 2. Bystanders were cockahoop, whilst the Shankill man himself remained as nonchalant as a Botoxed brow. Later on, Looney was expounding on Irish peels. The luminaries of the game breathe in rarefied air. "At the top level, the game is 95 % mental." The words of Jimmy Connors. The East St Louis man oft- eschewed Davis Cup action for the large paychecks on offer in exhibition tennis but when the majors came calling, he delivered.
Sandy Greig was double banking on lawn 1, monopolising lawn time to the chagrin of his opponent. Three games unbeaten and on the trophy hunt, to overcome Greig you'll need to bring more than a knife to the gunfight. When Russell Harris bestrode the lawn today, his play sparkled. Alas, Greig made it four on the spin and would soon add Williams to his victims. "Everything should be made as simple as possible but no simpler" (Albert Einstein). Greig did just that with a series of flawless short-range shots. He followed it up with a sumptuous 20 yard pass roll approach to hoop 1 before going around with that metronomic efficiency we have all come to admire.
In the New Mirabeau Trophy, separate wins came for Tim Furlong over Terence Woulfe Flanagan and for Anne-Marie McGowan over Martin Gilmartin. Both matches boasted moments of real class.
Sheilagh Gllennane enjoyed a comprehensive win over Tim Furlong in the Boxwell Cup whilst Ross Brennan was uber-efficient in dispatching Sylvia Briggs.
Life is about moments. That hasn't changed. Croquet mirrors life. Today's alchemic hoop-jump roquet from Williams was a special moment in time, a transubstantive effort that will linger in the memory. As we move on to the final day's games, we hope for more magisterial play from a cast of capables that always seems to deliver.