Day One of the County Dublin Croquet Championships at Carrickmines C & LTC featured a cast of talented technicians flourishing in a sun-kissed outdoor arena tailor-made for the cognoscenti of mallet and hoop. Vitamin D and croquet. What more could any one ask ?
On lawn 1, the Boxwell Cup (Handicap Singles) competition witnessed tactical supremo Martin Gilmartin strolling to a 26-0 win versus Dave McGrath. His win owed much to pure ball-striking and the temperament of a Buddhist monk.
Gilmartin downed a cappuccino before going on to account for the hopes of Tim Furlong by 16 hoops to 10 in a measured New Mirabeau trophy display.
In the same comortas (competition), a game Terence Woulfe Flanagan saw off Karen Davidson Perrins by 26 hoops to 3.
The Phantom trophy featured the clever play of both Sheilagh Glennane and Ann Woulfe-Flanagan with the former triumphant by 8 hoops to 2.
Not to be outdone, Skedda-maestro Tony Allwright was polished and precise in an 11-7 win over Mark McCann.
Further Phantom action encompassed the competitive Nicola Kelly dispatching Duncan Styles by 14 hoops to 3. Elsewhere, Richard Whelan was ice-cool in seeing off Patricia Burke in a Phantom outing that was enjoyed by neutrals.
On 1, the double-banking duo of Anne-Marie McGowan and Russell Harris were pitted in a battle of top-class roquets and effortless hoop-running. AMG's continually improving game is evocative of Gary Player's dictum: "The harder I practice, the luckier I get." 26-19 there to McGowan, very much a case of "have bisques, will travel" for her when faced by championship pedigree opponents in the Boxwell handicap event.
Duff Matthews rivals Dave McGrath and Nigel Werner would probably have opted for predicted grades if they knew they were to serve up an error- strewn contest in baking heat fit for mad dogs and Englishmen. McGrath came through after an 8 hoop break that softened the aftertaste of roquets missed and profligacy of hoop. Think Gary Birtles at Old Trafford in the Big Ron era.
On lawn 2, the svelte figure of Alan Looney was seen engaging in a frenetic clash versus Mark McCann.
Looney's recent physical transformation sees him now boast the vo2 max capacity of a young Sir Steve Redgrave. A metabolic marvel to the boffins at DCU's high-performance laboratory, the engineering doyen Looney had to sit back and watch a savvy McCann use his bisques to maximum effect, taking the spoils by 26 hoops to 12 in this Boxwell opener. McCann's even temperament could see him contend for major honours. Hitting in and running hoops. The game hasn't changed.
Sandy Greig's game keeps improving as if guided by some magical Scottish recipe. Deep-fried mars bar? Nary. Practice and a strategic brain deserving of a Sandhurst Fellowship. Greig combines the tactical acumen of a 5-star general with the feather-like touch of an Ilie Nastase. Beating him was beyond a super-competitive Sheilagh Glennane who succumbed by a margin of 26 hoops to 20 to the forestry saineolaí (expert).
Championship Singles action brought Mssrs Harris and Johnston (Danny) together in a clash every bit as enticing as this afternoon's Djokovic vs Nadal semi-final showdown on Court Philippe Chatrier. Johnston brings plenty of what that Flahavan's porridge ad called "fiúntas" (quality). The burette merchant gaily set about his task early doors, his opponent forced to admire his former protégé's transition from East Glendalough novice to perennial internationalist. Johnston completed a whitewash and is the early bookies' favourite. Physics chalkman Harris was later feeling a sense of inertia as Carrickminder Simon Williams went about running hoops with the minimum of fuss. His reward for this championship "W" was a quarter pounder with cheese and chips straight off the grille from nearby Ballyman. Harris can console himself that the former world no 7 Williams retains much of what made him the feared test match animal of yesteryear. Namely a love for ethanol sugars and a sweetly struck regulation Dawson ball.
Nathaniel Healy possesses the type of croquet cunning that merits championship consideration when the odds are being drawn up. He met Alan Looney on lawn 2 for what some pre-billed as the match of the day. The Canterbury-clad Newcastle lawman came through despite spirited Looney resistance. Plenty of learnings for the ex-club president though in his maiden championship outing.
Tomorrow's action could be spell-binding.