Golf Croquet - European Championships 2024

Golf Croquet - European Championships 2024

The 2024 Golf Croquet European Championships started today, Thursday16th May, at Sussex County Croquet Club in Southwick, near Brighton, England. There are those who will question whether England is now in Europe but a similar refrain would issue, as to those who question emerging ideologies of the self: "You're anything you want to be, baby."
The England we know and love is home to magnificent 'ballers - like Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden, not to mention outstanding communities of croquet practitioners throughout its counties and shires.

The opportunity to represent your country mirrors that of marriage proposals - it is wonderful to be asked. Robert O'Donoghue, Alan Looney and Mark Stephens have grasped the nationalistic nettle and have been comprehensively welcomed to Southwick. Some say pressure is for tyres and maintain that it is a privilege. Mike Babcock, the doyen of ice hockey coaches, describes pressure 'as the feeling you get when you know you've got a chance'. O'Donoghue spent three months in contemplative meditation in Bhutan a few years back. He felt some cognitive dissonance would help his game. Stephens knows that every action has an equal but opposite reaction. His gameplay prep is largely based off performing the Daily Examen, a practice invented by St Ignatius of Loyola. On special occasions he's been known to rise at 4am for matins, a prayerful start to the day that can feature some Gregorian chanting. He's known to love vespers and usually has a two fingered kitkat with a cup of Yorkshire tea directly afterwards. However, he is dissenter from the orthodox dictum that consists of a vow of chastity pertaining to the collared ranks. Birded or bloked up bishoprics, indeed at any rank, more closely resemble the population at large and provide authority when discussing affairs of the heart. Mary Mc' is on the right path. The Ardoyne academic earned a doctorate in canon law after the Áras, she knows that Papa Francesco has veered left but not to the extent that would make those fond of the leftover peach (Chinese argot) fully welcome in the house that Peter built.

Whilst sipping on an ice cool Borsodi lager at the renowned eaterie, Menza (Budapest) on the ides of March, Stephens engaged in a long debate with a multi-garlanded Scottish scribe,about that age-old speculative gambit, 'Bird or bloke.' The conversational poser has become distinctly vulgar in society of recent times. Not without reason. Nurturing positive vibes, public discourse and the feel good flow of psychic energy had become a major objective of the croquet duo. Stephens put forward the case that each human life is created equal, and this in the land of '56 when the multitudes rose up agin the yolk of Soviet tyranny. That very evening he enjoyed a luxurious soaking in the Rudas Baths, whilst reading a copy of that day's New York Times which featured an opinion piece on Bibi's quest for self-preservation. 

Alan Looney has the technical know-how that comes from grooving match-winning strokes on the association croquet circuit. Character is destiny. Looney knows that his play won't break down under the type of pressure that produces diamonds from coal: match-play intensity.

Play started early on day 1 today on perfectly manicured lawns, the sun was present but Bertie Ahern would still have worn his anorak, let's put it that way. A light zephyr blew across lawn 2 as Mark stroked a perfect blue from corner 4 to one yard south of the opening hoop. He took time to self-reflect and take in his current staging post, a wonderful corner of Blighty playing a game that if not quite regal, certainly has a special aristocratic feel to it. Life was good, the ball running true as per his cognitive desires and associated motor skill functioning. His opponent, Patricio Le Garay Junior of Spain, is possessed of strategic guile and a technical prowess you would normally see in Renaissance brushmen. The thrill was about being in the arena, thriving under pressure and generally enjoying it all while sipping home county ales of exquisite pedigree. Even at 9am of a Thursday. It was by no means a habitual occurrence but the stresses of his 9 to 5 earner had been left behind on the tarmac at Dublin Airport. The risk levels in retail banking have exploded. Proper compliance within a tight legal framework comprises much of his role. The health of Irish banking is within safe hands. Were that Stephens were 10 years older and present when traditional banking practices, think the principles of a ye olde tweed shandypanted corduroy conservatism, were jettisoned by vacuous bonus-hungry short back and side merchants, to leave us in a state of servility to foreign powers and rapacious funds.Speaking truth to power. Stephens has a grasp of the bigger picture. Near full employment, yes - but our exposure to risks in terms of windfall corporation tax receipts amidst third world public services in a first world country. He'd slash the number of deputies in Leinster House by 75% but bob them up with a 400 grand a year take home purse. Get quality in. That could wait. Croquet consumed him. A clearance shot missed, he ran hoop 1 with conviction. His blue ball came to rest one foot in front of hoop 2. Splendid. Stephens would triumph by 7 hoops to 4 in game 1 and 2. In his second match in block D, he emerged triumphant in a 2 game to 1 margin versus Sweden's Joi Elebo.

O'Donoghue was under the cosh early doors versus local sharpshooter, Dominic Nunns, and took time to build momentum. Soon he was swishing hoops like MJ in North Carolina's NCAA championship win of '82. The Tar Heels came to rely on the 6'6 freshman at point guard on their way to the title. O'Donoghue is fond of an old wooden mallet he picked up in a Bedouin souk in 2017. The game is as much about feel as it is tactical savvy. He took the first game 7-5 and snuck a tight one 7-6 in the second game of the best of 3. Later on he would come acropper against Jose Alvarez-Sala.The Galician had starred as an eye-catching 'baller in Deportivo La Coruña's academy before succumbing to a cruel ACL injury in a bounce game agin Barca's chislers at La Masia. The competitive fire still burns bright, he saw off O'Donoghue today with some cultured shot-making. A good ship always rights its course, O'Donoghue woild go on to a two games to nil victory over Latvia's Tomass Freimanis.

Meanwhile, Alan Looney went down 2 zip to Tudor Jenkins of the Principality. The technician from the Valleys knows how to run hoops though Looney put up strong resistance and will be better for the lawn time. He proved this theory right immediately with a games to nil shut-out versus Ian Sexton of Swizerland.

Golfing technicians of the highest quality, Mssrs Stephens and O'Donoghue have won all before them whilst representing Dun Laoghaire Golf Club. Walker Cup honours were fitting and came as no surprise to those au courant with the golfing world. A two time valedictorian at Stanford, Stephens' go-to shot is the fade whereas O'Donoghue prefers to shape his play with a consistent draw. Last Saturday's monthly medal saw Stephens rip a 3 wood pin high on the 330 yard par 4 fourth on the middle, off the back tees. He coaxed his Titleist ProV1 in over the water on the right, to nestle to a final position three feet from the flag. His clutch putting is of the type coveted by Hollywood, Co Down's favourite golfing son. A life of vacillating vicissitudes, the latter would agree. I think it was Phil Collins who legally diverged from his bean chéile before a rapprochement - anything is possible, watch this space. O'Donoghue's short game has been honed daily in the 130 yard practice area to the rear of his Rathmichael demesne. He makes getting up and down look easy such is his crafted play with wedge and putter. Profiting from a cool temperament, RO'D has built a steady income stream in high stakes skins games against monied yanks at the old course in Portmarnock. The Corinthian spirit of the Royal & Ancient is important to him so he counter-balances his punts with a generous patronage of a south Dublin kennel for mistreated pooches. It seems ridiculous to say but Ben Crenshaw struggled on the greens when transitioning from the PGA to Champions Tour. O'Donoghue sat down with him after the TPC at Sawgrass and counselled him to focus on 'rolling' the putt and not 'hitting' the putt. The message of itself was simple but the impact was transformational. Wins in Doral and Torrey Pines soon followed for Crenshaw. There are , of course,  a phalanx of putting gurus and swing doctors on the pro golf circuit. Proof positive that 'in the multitude of counsellors, there is safety'. Standing over a putt is like facing a randomly chosen jury in a trial of great personal significance. Oscillations in speed, coarseness of grain. Roll the ball, be the ball.

Stephens is a believer in participative socialism - a concept that encourages the empowerment of employees with greater representation on company boards with matching shareholding rights. An advocate of a form of microfinancing that has emboldened the rural poor of sub-Saharan Africa, Stephens has also led a cooperative type movement that has transformed the fortunes of traditionally nomadic pygmys  in outer Mongolia. Milk yields were increased and a move towards a conglomerated food flavouring business is now afoot. His self-created company is now emerging as the Kerry Foods of Asia. The Communist Party of China want in. They feel that an increase in protein in the national diet will bolster the citizenry ahead of an economic powerplay on the world stage.

Stephens' faith in the European ideal is steadfast. It starts with firm support for the olden glory days of home and away European Cup ties in association fitba through to equalised social welfare rates across the union. Jacques Delors was an inspiration, Lech Walesa a confidant. Ireland's economic war with its nearest neighbour and greatest trading partner, Britain, in the 1930s was very much a cherished tool in the armoury of Blackrock College alumnus, Eamon De Valera. Stephens and O'Donoghue by their mid-teens had developed an alternative philosophy that would place them left of Alan Greenspan but to the right of Charlie McCreevy.

Both of the Irish men excel in first class cricket. Stephens took a sabbatical from studying the classics at Trinity to play in the Sheffield Shield, Australia's blue riband competition. He developed his swing and seam bowling to such an extent that he regularly took wickets from the luminaries of the Antipodean game - men like Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and the Waugh brothers. Offspin, leggies, googlys, yorkers and doosras - he could deploy each at moments of his own choosing. Kerry Packer sought to tie down the hotshot bowler to a long term contract but the pull of home, Dublin town, was too strong. O'Donoghue spent the same period revelling in the hot house atmosphere of the Indian Premier League. His batting was strong and off the front foot. He usually batted at number 3 or 4 in the order and consistently delivered in terms of longevity at the crease and a high run per over rate. Upon his return to the town he loves so well, O'Donogue combined his love of golf croquet with a spell up top for St Patrick's Athletic FC. He learned his trade from the 'two footed Hagi of Inchicore', Eddie Gormley. He would gain legendary status in the local St Michael's Estate for his own version of the panenka in a Cup derby with the Gypsies. First touch is destiny.

If truth be told, the triumvirate prepared assiduously for this month's European Championships of Golf Croquet. For the last four weeks, they would arrive at sunrise to lawn 2 in Carrickmines and would start with warmer uppers of 2 dozen x 4 foot roquets followed by a lawn-wide 'promotion shots' aka association style-rush shots. Next up would be a peg-out comp' on the diag. Starting in one of the corners and trying a diagonal peg shot at pace. The goal was to improve accuracy and feel for the power play. The same exercise would then be repeated, Evan Newell-style, from midway up the lawn on the eastern boundary shooting west before reverting from the far side. The concluding drill would see some hoop running: 1 yarders, 2 yarders, 4 yarders then boundary attempts south of hoop 9. Vibe, energy, competitive shot-making; very much grooving the stroke ahead of what the tournament itself will bring. Finished off with some match play. Long clearances, angled hoops, promotions of sumptuous quality. All facilitated by benevolent employers keen to garner that intangible accounting asset - goodwill, from a darling Irish public. Many young men of twenty have crossed the Irish Sea to Perfidious Albion with a mixture of piss and rebellion coursing through their veins. Many have dreamt of dying for their country, what about living for your country ? Sporting endeavours are the greatest ecumenical tool we possess. To get to that title shot outdoors in a ballpark, the 10,000 hour rule must be adhered to, unless innate talent is present in inestimable quantities. Have mallets, will travel. Two weeks before Ramadan and just after performing the hajj, O'Donovan joined Stephens in competing in Croquet des Sables, a 96 hour continuous golf croquet blitz on the blazing hot sands of the Sahara. Wearing specially adapted Saucony duck-egg blue trainers, they were abetted by the coaching nous of one Bertram Djamal, an Oxbridge alum' who had converted to Islam after a visit to the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.  Croquet des Sables is all about tempo play and the two Irishmen learned much from their podium finish in the comp' proper. Djamal's advice was direct and to the point, shoot early and shoot often. The angled hoop run is the equivalent of the one touch finish in football, take the keeper and the oppo' by surprise. Looney spent the same period off Junction 15 of the M50. He honed his technique and strategy in consultation with some of the brightest minds to ever don the green shirt of Éire.

This week's tournament promises to be a belter with a trio of genuine contenders from this green, green land. Each day's scores will feature on

Dave McGrath