Magherafelt off the pace in Antrim

FOLLOWING an encouraging start (two wins and a draw with league leaders Civil Service), and lying in second place, Magherafelt have managed to work their way down the table into the bottom half of the Ulster Squash Premier League after the opening 5 weeks of competition.

This week they travelled to a very competitive (and young!) Antrim side. Ray Hogg opened up for Magherafelt at No. 3 against a new “streamlined” Marty O’Kane. Marty had lost over 2 ½ stone during his pre-season training and had never been fitter. Ray dug in from the start and there were never more than a couple of points between the players. Marty managed to sneak the opening game in the “tie break” 14/12, with Ray making mistakes at the crucial time rather than Marty winning the game. The match followed in the same pattern in the next two games.

Again they went right down to the wire and could have gone either way. Unfortunately for Magherafelt, when in winning positions Ray perhaps tried to hard win the points outright and Marty was able to exploit his mistakes under pressure. Marty won the match in straight games 3/0; 14/12, 11/9, 12/10; however this was a match that Ray had played well enough to have won 3/0 himself.

The No. 4 rubber was next and Laurence Hastings struggled from the start as Stuart McIlroy never allowed him to get going. Stuart showed incredible athleticism covering the whole court effortlessly, retrieving everything that Laurence threw at him and returning the ball “with interest”. Laurence tried speeding up the pace of the game, slowing it down, going for winners, but nothing shook Stuart’s dominance and he won in straight games 3/0; 11/5, 11/4, 11/3. Laurence’s game badly needs more time on court and some hard fitness work!

In the evenings top match Jeremy Hastings had a “rollercoaster encounter” with Darrin Waring. Jeremy was fancied to win this rubber and although he got off to a good start, going 1/0 up, the game was much tighter than had been expected (14/12) with Darrin rallying and competing with great determination. With the court being effected by condensation problems Jeremy was finding that, like the other Magherafelt players, he was having to continuously adapt his strategy to the changed playing condition’s. Despite losing the second game Jeremy adapted well and came back strongly to take the third game and develop a match winning position in the fourth.

It was very unlike him to squander several “match balls” as Darrin fought his way back with great tenacity to squeeze through in a tie break in the fourth game and take the match to a decider. Jeremy may not have got his tactics right in the fifth, possibly taking too much pace off the ball and Darrin managed to work his way into a match winning position.

To Magherafelt’s surprise and dismay Darrin managed to convert his opportunity to take the match 3/2; 12/14, 11/8, 6/11, 13/11, 11/8.

In the remaining rubber at No. 2 Gareth Brown was not fancied in his match with Chris O’Kane. However, Gareth competed well from the start and “kept Chris honest”. Gareth levelled the match at 1/1 but just didn’t have the legs to sustain the volume of punishment that Chris was imposing on him. Gareth continued to go for everything right to the end, but he was unable to stop Chris taking a 3/1 victory; 11/6, 3/11, 11/4, 11/6.

On paper this gave Antrim an emphatic 4/0 (13/3) victory, however it could easily have been a 2/2 result if Magherafelt had taken their chances. Magherafelt are away to David Lloyd’s for their next league match and they will have to lift their game if they are to get anything out of it as Lloyd’s won’t give too many chances!

Ulster Squash Premier Division League Table

Position Club Played Points

1 Civil Service 5 54

2 Ballynafeigh 5 51

3 Belfast Boat Club 5 45

4 Antrim 5 41

5 David Lloyd’s 5 37

6 Magherafelt 5 34

7 Ballyearl 5 29

8 Windsor 5 24