Niland makes his mark
Irishman leaves impression on SW19 in heart-stopping defeat
The fighting Irish have not been seen at Wimbledon for more than a century so Conor Niland was determined to land a few blows and make an impression on Court No17 yesterday, which was exactly what he did in a heart-stopping five-setter against Adrian Mannarino, of France.
After a wonderfully committed four-hour slugfest that would have graced Thomond Park in his native Limerick, Niland eventually went down 6-4, 4-6, 6-7, 6-4, 4-6.
It was the match of the tournament to date but Niland's pride will be tempered by the rueful knowledge that he should have won with something to spare. Only in the second set was the Irishman outplayed by Mannarino.
Niland had set points in the third, won the fourth and was leading 4-1 in the fifth when the moment arrived that many Irish sportsmen have grown to fear: a triumphant chorus of The Fields of Athenry from the 'home' crowd.
This is an anthem that should only ever be sung when your side, or your favourite, are trailing and needs encouragement or when victory is absolutely assured. Never should it be sung when you merely think victory is just around the corner. Premature articulation is guaranteed to put the mockers on proceedings.
And so it proved. From a commanding position, Niland fell away alarmingly.
With four qualifying matches under his belt leading into yesterday's game, Niland suddenly found himself running on empty.
The world No181 is a rock solid Challenger Tour pro who plies his trade with great endeavour and passion but, like everybody in the game, it is Wimbledon he dreams of. Yesterday was still his day of all days.
He was the first Irishman to play here since Matt Doyle in 1984, although technically Doyle was still American in those days, not declaring his allegiance to the mother country until the following year.
But there was a time when you could hardly move for Irishmen in SW19. Willoughby Hamilton, the 1890 Wimbledon champion, was probably the best of the lot but had his career shortened by illness, while Joshua Pim won in 1893 and 1894.
The bad boy of Irish tennis was Vere St Leger Goold, who reached the 1879 Wimbledon final, although he was much better known in latter years as a murderer, he and his French wife killing Swedish heiress Emma Liven in Monte Carlo.
He later committed suicide at Devil's Island -- the penal colony featured in Papillon -- in 1909.
The All England Club do not tend to dwell on St Leger Goold much, but Niland was warmly welcomed yesterday and his departure mourned. It was good to have the Irish back.