Numbers rise to the table tennis Challenge
LAST year, table tennis was just one of many smaller sports wondering how to revive its flagging fortunes. At elite level, all was going well, with structured squad training and top level coaching producing ever-improving results.
But on the ground, the numbers weren't there.
"That's when we came up with the idea of the Challenger Series, for kids who are getting coaching at school and for the club members who might go out in the first round of an ordinary tournament," said organiser Chris Cowan.
"We have six divisions open to boys and girls. They play two matches to start out with and then they are graded. So a 17-year-old can play a 12-year-old, or a girl can beat a boy."
Once divided into grades, everyone then plays a further five matches before semi-finals and finals.
"It means all the players get at least seven matches and so plenty of time at the table," said Cowan.
In between matches, they also act as score-keepers, so are kept busy and involved.
The concept has proved a runaway success, with 140 signing up for the second event of the season at Colaiste Phadraig in Lucan last week, where the 15 tables were in constant use all day.
Among the clubs represented were St John's, St Ronan's, Mountrath, Ballyronan, Carlow, Rathdowney and host club Donic.
Now plans are afoot to expand the idea and to hold a much bigger tournament that can include everyone who wants to play, plus the elites, who are currently excluded.
While the emphasis is on fun, standards are high and one thrilling match mid-afternoon on Sunday drew about a hundred spectators to the table.
Even more impressive was the number of enthusiastic young players who stayed on to support their clubmates in the semi-finals and finals.
Winning the Division 1 decider was Eamon Roche , who beat his Wexford CBS team-mate Stefan Kalchev.
Claire Hiller from St Ronan's got the better of Kevin Wang from Club Donic in the Division 2 decider, Alex Voznyuk from Club Donic won Division 3, beating Emma Kavanagh from Carlow.
Kate Whelan from the Ballyroan club near Portlaoise won Division 4, Scott Jestin of Rathdowney Division 5 and Daria Dorynska of St Ronan's Division 6. New clubs and schools are always welcome.