Left to Right-Kingsley Rees, Nick Guard (Capt), Paul Hounsell, Ceredig Emanuel, Tony Smith and very far right and remaining very far South East, non travelling Simon Bourge.
As they say a picture tells a thousand words and unfortunately our proposed no.2 Simon Bourge overdid the pre-tournament training and in his final workout 36 hours before departure ruptured his calf!! Luckily the five remaining, super fit, international athletes, who’d actually paced their pre-tournament training in accordance with the over 60’s body requirements headed to Galway without any cover, and with lots of things crossed.
Anyway we were off to Bristol Airport and kindly transported there by our No. 1 Mr Smith, in his super comfy camper van. Well that was an adventure in itself but with total confidence that our No.1 knew every narrow back lane in Bristol…why we didn’t just go the normal way nobody in the bus understood but the boy done good and there it was…Bristol Airport…Never in doubt….. much! More adventure then ensued with five grown men trying to navigate modern technology, checking in, depositing bags which needed dropping without any human contact whatsoever! That’s where we abandoned our No 3. Mr Hounsell, whose phone seemed to have a mind of its own when it came to displaying a QR code …. lesson No.1… print it out as well! I think we also lost another shortly after as the contents of Mr Emanuel’s handbag seemed to raise a major security fear. Then there were 3 for a short while, but thankfully all reunited again in the departure lounge together with a contingent of over 40 men and over 35 women.
A pretty uneventful, slightly delayed flight to Knock (yes that is a place and has an airport) followed and I just now prayed that the minibus I’d ordered for the 3 teams was genuine, not a scam and was actually there waiting for us. And yes there was a sign being held up for Mr Guard…pheeeew! One slight issue… one other of the over 35 ladies was joining the group and flying in from East Midlands, scheduled to land 5 minutes after us…nope…delayed 35 minutes! Driver wasn’t best pleased with this as his return journey back to Knock from Galway included collecting someone from a hospital appointment in a wheelchair and taking them home. If they phoned him once on the journey, they phoned him 15 times and every time in his soft Irish accent he told them he was 20 minutes away, lol. Traffic into Galway was horrendous on Friday afternoon and the tournament Captains meeting was looking doubtful. Stress was increasing but on checking in to the lovely Ardalaun hotel, I hot-footed it to the Galway Lawn Tennis and Squash Club about a mile away and just about made the meeting, but with a sweat on already! My team mates of course took their time and chilled at the hotel before a leisurely walk over to join me.
Well it was England up first and they looked particularly strong as expected.
With the withdrawal of our No. 2 the challenge was even greater than usual, with four of us moving up the order. The challenge was accepted and Kingsley Rees got us off to a great start at No. 5 winning the first against England’s Nick Peel 11-9. A valiant effort in the second game saw Kingsley lose a close tie break 13-15. This gave a boost to the England man and he saw out the match 8-11, 4-11 but a point on the board against England is always welcome.
Next up were the No. 3’s, Paul Hounsell v England’s Nick Gollaglee. Well I’ve never seen lob serves like it! Many of which were almost impossible to get a racket on and at this point I was extremely grateful for the withdrawal of our Simon as that meant I’d moved up to No.2 and didn’t need to face these torturous serves. Having lost, I think Paul’s words coming off court were ‘I feel like having a game of squash now’… and I knew exactly what he meant!
The top gun No 1’s were up next and our Tony was up against the very experienced and successful England Captain Allen Barwise. The England captain started strong and took a 2-0 lead but our No.1 was digging in deep and putting his opponent under increasing pressure. This pressure was taking its toll on the England No.1 and Tony took the 3rd in a tie break 13-11. Again in the fourth the England No. 1 looked in trouble against our super fit Tony and it looked like the match was going to a fifth with Tony up 10-7. A controversial referee decision arose and the subsequent dialogue produced a delay which seemed to benefit the England Captain. Unfortunately Tony couldn’t convert the 4th and the match went to a very relieved England No.1. Fantastic effort from Tony and my money would have been on a Welsh win had it gone to 5.
With the match win secured for the English it was left to our No. 4 Ceredig v Mark Taylor and then up last, myself at No.2 v John Parkes. We both fought hard and were well up in some games but the England men seemed to have that extra gear to close out and both secure 3-0 wins. Final score 5-0 to England 20 points to 2. Given the quality of the games and a mammoth effort by us all, I felt for us to get only 2 points was a harsh outcome.
Of course all of us had an early night after a hearty Irish stew and some soft drinks to properly prepare for the Irish the following morning. And that’s the only version you are getting!
After walking off our high quality hotel breakfast on the mile walk to the club, it was the Irish up next on the Galway Club’s show court. Now the Irish match normally provides a good chance of picking up points and indeed on numerous occasions I have been involved, more often than not, a win. Having seen the result of the Ireland Scotland match the night before and actually realising the strength of the Irish team this year, especially at the top of the order, it looked like we could be in for another tough day at the office.
Having said that our No. 5 Kingsley, got us off to a great start in a tight 5 setter closing out with a win 11-6 in the fifth against James McSweeney. Unfortunately that’s as good as it got with 3-0 losses for the rest of us after the arrival of the expected onslaught from the incredibly strong Irish top 4, ….. which included Willie Hosey, a several times world champ at various age groups and Vincent Bradley the German based Irishman who in previous years has proved a very strong No.1 for Ireland. Then the strong middle order of John Dineen and Dave Lalor at 3 and 4 respectively. Final score 4-1 to Ireland, 19 points to 3. At the end of this match our opinion was that this Irish team could well go on and beat England in the afternoon decider and nick the title.
Scotland were last up and with them also losing both of their opening matches this was going to be the decider to avoid the wooden spoon. After two matches the score was 1 a piece with Kingsley losing 3-0 at 5 to David McAlease but soon followed by an excellent 3-1 win for Paul Hounsell at 3 against the tricky Keith Gristwood. Unfortunately during Kingsley’s match he received a blow to the eye from the backswing of David’s racket after trying his luck at going forward a bit early anticipating a drop shot. The damage looked fairly innocuous at first but after a few more points Kinglsey’s eye had virtually closed and we were into an injury break and an ice pack. The wounded soldier didn’t look great for the rest of the weekend but the battle scar was certainly a talking point.
With the match at 1-1 the No. 1s were up next with our Tony taking on the very seasoned Chris Holt. After a hard fought first game and a 13-11 tie break the Scotsman took the lead. Two more tough games followed but both went Scotland’s way 11-6, 11-8. With us now 2-1 down the match was still alive but with the number 4 match, with our Ceredic v Norman Patterson going in a very similar fashion to the number 1 match… going down in a hard fought tie break first game 13-11 followed by two more hard fought games 11-9, 11-6. At this point the tie was lost and the wooden spoon secured….unfortunately for us! Finally my turn to try to save some personal pride in the dead rubber which saw me off to a flier winning the first 11-6 against the tall Scot Keith Murray. Unfortunately I couldn’t capitalise on the lead and lost the next 3 tough games 11-6, 11-8, 11-7. Match to Scotland 4-1, 18 points to 4.
Not the end result we were hoping for but everyone gave their all. Our prediction of an Ireland win however, proved correct and we managed to catch the end of their epic battle with England when Dave Lalor at No. 4 for Ireland managed to secure the win and the title in a fifth set tie break 13-11 against England’s Mark Taylor. As you can imagine the Galway club erupted in jubilation. Well done Ireland!
In addition earlier in the afternoon we were able to see the Welsh O60 ladies bring home the title after winning all three of their matches. Another great win for a Welsh team and one to be very proud of! We should also mention our ladies O35/40 team who came oh so close to winning the title. It turned out that the decider for them took place in the very first rubber on Friday evening with a tough 3-2 loss to England. Unlucky girls but a well earned second place. Well done also to our O40 men including a few international debutants but their weekend turned out to be similar to ours. All experience building though!
Ps. This isn’t the ladies O60 team below!
Saturday Evening and Sunday
Now the sweaty work was done…. or so I thought, we were off to the presentation dinner. After some fabulous food and a few bottles of wine and some very raucous presentations, not forgetting Ireland won the mens O60 and Wales won the ladies O60, which went down a treat in the room. Of course after all of this the traditional disco dancing competition then commenced and the sweating started once more. I was adamant we were going to win this and although I’m biased in my judging…. we definitely did! Mind you that was mainly due to the contribution of the now black eyed Kingsley Rees. I think in many settings he’d probably have been arrested but luckily the Masters Family cut him some slack and saw the funny side. All I’ll say is Patrick Swayze had nothing on Kinsley’s dirty dancing!
A few sore heads were apparent on Sunday morning and after breakfast someone who shall remain nameless, thought it a good idea to see some of the beautiful Galway sights. A great idea in theory if we’d had a car, but at that point none of us sheep realised what the feet were about to endure once more. 18000 steps walking to Galway centre and along the front then back to the hotel seemed to take an age but in the end a worthwhile tour which had to be done. Needless to say the hour long taxi journey back to Knock in the afternoon was a quiet affair, although in fairness to Damian the driver he kept us enthralled for a while with his deep local knowledge of the area and its history. Unfortunately though at one point I think he was talking to 5 dozing Welshmen. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
In conclusion a fantastic weekend with a great bunch of masters players from all four nations but especially the Welsh contingent who were a credit to themselves, Squash Wales and Wales. My thanks to Tony, Kinglsey, Ceredig and Paul for some great company, great commitment and great fun over the weekend and not forgetting our Guernsey based comrade Simon who kept in contact throughout the weekend. Get well soon Simon!
I was honoured to Captain my Country for the first time.
Written By: Nick Guard – Mens O60 Captain 2022.