The build up to this year’s event in Dublin was nothing short of dynamic. Sometimes crude, rude and not fit for consumption by under 18s but dynamic nonetheless. There was a promise of sponsorship which was cruelly snatched away and a Whatsapp group, the content of which will never be discussed outside the team.
The team had been selected some weeks earlier and in a dramatic turn around of the usual residence of the players, five of the merry band were from North Wales.
The team in order was Jonathan Davies (North), Steve Williams (South), Dylan Davies (North), Eddie Prust (North), Paul Barrell (North) and Steve Bird (North).
Travelling arrangements were a fiasco in themselves as Barrell attempted to book a ferry for all the North Wales players plus a keen supporter in Alwyn Davies. Little did Barrell know that a simple booking would take three hours and four attempts. Firstly, the booking had to be cancelled to get full names, secondly emails, then passport numbers, and on the last attempt the booking would finally be done. Steve, our sole South Wales player made his way via a flight from Bristol which Barrell did not have to book and he was most thankful about that!
The North Wales guys met at Holyhead Ferry Port at 8am on Friday. Eddie decided that he hadn’t paid enough for his trip and paid twice for parking, just in case.
After a quick meet and greet and a presentation of a Welsh shirt to our supporter we boarded the ferry and found the first obstacle. About ten minutes into the sailing Barrell (who for some unknown reason had been asked to be captain), discovered he had left the coasters we were going to give our opponents as gifts in his car at the ferry port. JD was swift to point out ‘One job you had, Barrell’. One job indeed, apart from selecting and organising the team and team order, liaising with Squash Wales, organising and collecting the whole team’s kit (via a 200 mile trip from North to South Wales), ordering and collecting the (now forgotten) coasters as gifts (via another 200 mile trip from North to South Wales (and a pint with the majestic Darren Thomas to pick them up)) and communicating all aspects of the trip with the frankly disparate bunch of reprobates who made up the team but one job it appeared to be. And he’d forgotten to do it.
Eddie Prust came to the rescue. In a blinding flash of inspiration, he returned from the duty free shop with a bumper pack of mini Tic tacs! Little did we know Tic tacs would be the gift of the competition! Everyone loves Tic tacs!
Eddie also needs a mention for the amount of kit he was now hauling across the Irish sea. Every year there is one player who orders a lifetime supply of kit when called up for the internationals. This year Eddie ordered no fewer than seven pairs of kit and four tracksuits! We were thankful he left his Welsh kilt at home however as he’d sent us a photo and it would definitely have upset all but the hardiest of stomachs.
So back to the forgotten coasters and Captain Barrell made amends with breakfast baps and coffee for the travellers plus some Jaffa Cakes he pulled from his rucksack.
Sometime later after swapping several stories of squash, derring do (ask Steve Bird about that one- or both!) and social victories the team arrived at Dublin Port. Getting a taxi to the hotel and all piling into Barrell and Bird’s room after none of the other rooms were ready we got down to the business of talking tactics. Not Tic tacs as they were for the other players.
Briefly the tactics were, in order of play, ‘Damage limitation against England tonight, go for the win against Scotland tomorrow morning and take as many points as we can against Ireland last match.’ Good plan, that’ll do. We’ll go with that.
So it was off to the rather splendid Fitzwilliam Club for the Welsh team and the first match against England.
Steve Williams joined us at the club and the team was complete. Steve had arrived early in the morning and had already built a house, bought another Range Rover and done some kickboxing.
First up against England was Steve Bird. In a flash of what can only be described as squash genius Steve took the first game with comparative ease! Could it be? Could we, after the first game of the tournament be on our way to victory against the mighty English? Steve seemed to think so! Commencing the second game Steve produced just as keen a performance as the first game but his opponent, Jolyon (real name) Head, pulled out all the skills he had so far kept in reserve. Steve went down 3-1 in the end. However, one point is a decent start. Let’s keep it going!
Then Steve Williams, Dylan and Barrell were consistent at least, with each losing 3-0 not for want of effort but to skilled opponents (Ian Cox, Tim Burrell and Alistair Coker respectively) with little time for Friday night matches.
The match of the night however needs some special consideration. JD at number one was pitted against Matt Holland (of British Over 45 champion fame). JD had lost 3-1 to Matt on their last encounter although JD had been running on lager and crisps as fuel from the night before on that occasion. The match was an absolute cracker with neither player managing to edge ahead by more than a couple of points each game and with the score level at 2-2 it was all to play for. JD attacked and Matt countered then Matt drilled some perfect shots to length and JD scooped them out. It was a joy to watch. With the two players virtually matching each other point for point the scores were level at 10 all. Then JD took the next point to serve for the match. A quick serve to the middle of the receiving box took Matt unaware and JD stopped. He was sure the ball had struck Matt’s shorts. This would mean match to JD. The referee stated he didn’t see it do so. Matt stated he felt nothing.
Therefore, JD forfeited the point and the serve went to Matt. JD receives serve and loses the next two points. Game over. So near yet so far.
Did the ball hit Matt? Should the ref have played a let? Should JD have carried on? Was JD robbed? Questions that will never be answered. What was clear is that JD had played a blinder and thoroughly deserves the Team Wales Man of the Match award if only because the rest of us were frankly rubbish.
The evening meal at the club was a rather tasty buffet which we all enjoyed (much better than potatoes and juice) although the £5 bottles of Lucozade Sport were probably best avoided.
With our plan unravelling slightly we returned to the Mespil hotel to recover and ready ourselves for Scotland first match tomorrow.
Breakfast was a rather subdued affair because the only player who could actually do the quality fayre on offer some justice was Steve Bird who wouldn’t be playing until later this afternoon.
It was off to the club for an early 9.30am start against Ireland. First on was Barrell against David McCormick. On any other day in any other place the match would have definitely been a five setter but with Barrell’s aim not quite right and an impressive display of length and width from David, the Scotsman was to win 3-0.
Eddie Prust was unfortunately not to fare any better at number 4. The nerves could have crept in a little or it could just have been fate but Eddie was to lose 3-0 to Adrian Richmond.
Next up was JD against Keith Simpson in what was to be far and away the best match of the morning. The match was an absolute cracker with neither player managing to edge ahead by more than a couple of points each game and with the score level at 2-2 it was all to play for. JD attacked and Keith countered then Keith drilled some perfect shots to length and JD scooped them out. It was a joy to watch. Just like the match last night. Déjà vu is alive and well and living in Dublin!
This time it was JD’s turn to emerge the victor, claiming the last game to win 3-2 in nail biting fashion, just edging ahead enough to claim the win. What was clear is that JD had played another blinder and thoroughly deserves the Team Wales Man of the Match award again if only because the rest of us were frankly rubbish once more.
Next on court, with the match still alive but very much on life support was Dylan against Richard Cambell. Dylan played some solid squash with length and variation but Rich was having very little of it and claimed the win for Scotland 3-0.
The last match was Steve Williams against Andy Spiers. With the weight of results very much tipped in Scotland’s favour Steve had some flashes of inspiration and several great rallies in each game but the result was to be 3-0 to Scotland.
What we didn’t know at the time was that Steve had pulled his back in the first game and was having a hard time pushing forward. We did discover this later as he looked like a sketch from Harry Enfield titled ‘the Wonky Man’. Still, after 2000mg of Ibuprofen (‘Be alright if I have another packet of these won’t it? I’ve had some soup.’) he declared himself still wonky but fit to play.
So it was on to the last match against Ireland. Captain Barrell almost had to step in to replace Steve Williams at one point but after 2000mg more Ibuprofen Steve insisted he was fit to play, a little sleepy and feeling a bit sick but fit to play nonetheless. This suited Barrell just fine as his plan to be first at the bar was working splendidly.
Steve Bird made the first appearance against Paul O’Brian. We wondered if Steve could pull off another inspiring start like the England match but it wasn’t to be. Steve lost 3-0 with his best chance in the third narrowly losing 11-9.
Eddie Prust stepped back on court next against Ronan Payton. Eddie unfortunately didn’t attain his potential this match and lost 3-0 even though at times Ronan looked both confused and slightly bewildered at Eddie’s choice of shots! In many ways, JD’s words of encouragement, ‘Shut up and win a game!’ was all Eddie needed to do but it wasn’t to be.
The next match was JD against none other than ex world number 7 Derek Ryan. After two marathon matches JD even managed to take the first game 12-10 but then the world class of Ryan showed through and JD (almost looking as if he’d been tasered by now) lost the next three games.
The penultimate match saw Dylan Davies take on Nick Staunton. The first two games saw Dylan consistently placing his opponent in difficult positions and he took a 2-0 lead. From then on Nick gained better length and width and clawed back the next two games to set up a fifth and final decider. It was all looking fairly evenly balanced until disaster stuck. At 2-4 down Dylan stretched for a forehand drive at mid court and immediately pulled up. After trying a few more steps, it was clear that he had done himself a mischief and had to retire from the match. Hobbling from the court he was immediately examined by Derek Ryan, physio to some of the world’s top players, and now Dylan. The news wasn’t good. Dylan had injured his Achilles tendon and would need to rest it and get a scan on it as soon as possible. Funnily enough Dylan seemed fine to hobble around but from that moment on someone had to carry his kit wherever he went and follow him into the shower to carry his towel and shampoo plus soap him up vigorously. Obviously Eddie volunteered but Dylan refused. We found Dylan a pair of crutches and he seemed happy enough to limp about all evening.
Last on court was wonky wobbly Steve Williams in some sort of Ibuprofen enhanced daydream. He says he doesn’t remember much about the match but still managed to take the second game 12-10. The final score was 3-1 to Handsome John Hurley.
There endeth the Men’s Over 45 campaign this year then. Not the result we had hoped for and pretty far from the game plan we started with. In our defence though the other teams were strong and apart from JD and his two fantastic efforts none of the Welsh team really hit their stride this weekend. This fact however was not going to deter any man from participating as enthusiastically as possible in the evening’s events!
In various states of shuffling, limping and on crutches the Welsh team plus our supporter arrived for the presentation. We trusted Ali to take some photos with the ‘image machine’ and all we can say is that the results were varied. Fortunately, a quick request to someone else gave us at least a few photos that weren’t blurred or of the ceiling. In suits and jackets of various fits, material and styles including a very nice jumper worn by Ali, we were treated to a great three course dinner at the Fitzwilliam and the obligatory speeches followed. I’m sure the Ireland captain, John Hurley had a speech prepared just in case but it was the England captain, Matt Holland who gave the victory speech for the Mens Over 45 champions. Sometime during the evening after several ‘mystery’ beverages from an unknown benefactor Eddie managed to offend the entire English ladies team. Goodness only knows what he said!
Following the speeches and under the direction of Masters legend Dara O’Flynn it was off to a local hostillery to sample some more Irish culture. Steve, Barrell and JD were the first to arrive in a quiet local called McSorleys. Or so we thought. The quiet front room of the bar gave way to what can only be described as a hive of activity in the back of the pub. Making our way through the melee we were joined by the Irish and Scottish men and a selection of ladies players until very early in the morning. A special mention needs to be made for JD here who led the charge until after 5am ensuring his squash and socialising reputation remains untarnished! In fact, upon leaving the night club he happened upon a bewildered looking Tim Burrell from the English team wandering the streets of Dublin completed lost. Tim’s eyes lit up like a man who had just been rescued from certain death and JD escorted him back to the hotel safely. Gold star to JD.
Sunday morning breakfast was reminiscent of the Village of the Damned. The little pee holes in the snow that were JD’s eyes were testament to the fact a good evening (and early morning) had been had by all.
Of the tall tales told over breakfast the bed banana story must be revealed to the general public. JD returned to the room he had been made to share with Eddie to find his bed cover slightly rumpled (even though it had been made up in the day) and Eddie fast asleep in his own bed. Thinking nothing of it, JD gets into bed, INTO THE REMAINS OF A FULLY MASHED UP BANANA! Furious, he wakes Eddie up and gets nothing but a sleepy response of ‘What’s up Fats?’! It seems Eddie had got into JD’s bed, soiled it, and then got into his own bed for a sleep!
Steve Williams and his wonky back had left for his flight earlier so the rest of the team had a short stroll around Dublin to clear a few fuzzy heads where we found lions in windows, told stories of U2 videos and browsed Tinder matches.
It was then time to say farewells to the other teams who were leaving at the same time for our short taxi ride to the ferry. The quote of the morning has to be awarded to our supporter Ali and the conversation went something like this:
Welsh player: ‘Bye now see you all next year,’
Irish Ladies player: ‘Yes take care, where is the event next year by the way?’
Welsh player: ‘I think it will be England so see you there.’
Alwyn: ‘Unless the good Lord upstairs takes us all by then.’
Oh my what a way to end the tournament!
The only journey left was the ferry home which took a bit longer than usual to board and disembark as Dylan slowly hobbled on and off. Dylan also had to arrange for him to be picked up and his van transported home as there was no way he would be driving it.
The four players from North Wales then said their own farewells and dispersed. The outcome of the weekend was somewhat incidental in many ways. As a nation we tend to always be the under dogs, out ranked by every one of the other nations. But Wales, in a true spirit of sportsmanship and honouring the time old tradition of competition, compete willingly and gave accounts of themselves that each man can be proud of. And that is the point isn’t it? It’s the competing and the challenge that drives us and the sense of belonging to our team, the national team.
All that remains for me to say is thank you for your effort and thank you for your company, wit and wisdom this weekend lads- it has been a pleasure being your (fairly incompetent) captain and I’ll see you all very soon for that night out!