The Barrow and District Table Tennis League began its new season this week with an air of excitement and expectancy. With the retirement as Chairperson of Keith Mallinson, who has led the league for almost 20 years, a new Management Committee was voted in at the AGM. New Chair is Keith Dymond, who brings his experience of playing in several leagues to the post. Paul Ackred is the new Secretary, Keith Edwards continues as Treasurer with Jonny Crawford Vice-Chair. This team have already started bringing fresh ideas to the table.
Meanwhile on the playing table the battle to be League champions would again appear to revolve around the rivalry between the Hawcoat Park teams. Last season saw Gareth Brunton, Steve Bushell, Keith Mallinson, Ryan Smith and Tony Whitehouse become Champions and take over as top team at Hawcoat Park.
Although, they started with a win in their first match their form was not as convincing as last season. They played Saints “A” at Saint Patrick’s hall. Whitehouse and Brunton opened with straight sets wins against the O’Flynns. However, three five set matches followed with Saints taking 2 victories. Stephen Cairns showed patience mixed with his bizarre hitting skills to fight back from 1-2 down to storm to an 11-3 deciding set.
Matt O’Flynn and Tony Whitehouse were both determined to play an open game where they could hit top spin winners. O’Flynn enjoyed the livelier opening and had a 2 set lead. The consistency of Whitehouse brought him back into the game. The Saints player missed an opportunity to seal victory in the fourth set , Whitehouse taking this at deuce to level at 2-2, but O’Flynn went ahead to take the decider 11-3.
Last season’s top Barrow junior player, Ben O’Flynn looked sharp against the long pimples used by Keith Mallinson but having won the first set 11-6 he lost sets two and three in tense finishes 10-12 and 9-11. He came back again to level the scores 2-2 but Mallinson took a good lead at the start of the decider which he did not relinquish winning 11-7. It was a similar story when O’Flynn senior took on Mallinson. This time though the Hawcoat Park player was behind in the fifth but kept making sure he returned the ball. He won the decider 14-12, which ensured his team would win their opening match.
Whitehouse’s woes continued when Stephen Cairns dibbed, dabbed and flicked the ball to all parts of the table to win in straight sets against an opponent he usually struggles against.
Player of the match was undoubtedly Gareth Brunton who went through the evening without dropping a set in either singles or doubles play. His amazing reactions and powerful forehand saw him in imperious form.
The match finished 7-3 but could equally have finished 9-1 or 5-5.
Hot on their heels are former champions now Hawcoat Park “A”. They started with a home fixture against Millom FP. In recent seasons Hawcoat have dominated this fixture but not so in this match. Alan Turner gave them the lead playing at number one in the absence of Keith Dymond. Neil Smith has had slow starts to the past few seasons but the Millom stalwart was on form from the off with a straight sets win against the dangerous left hander Chris Knowles. Andrew Murphy and Chris Knowles then both added four set wins against Nick Woods and Kevin Wilson respectively. Alan Turner would not have worried too much when Nick Woods narrowly took their opening set 13-11 as the home player turned the game around quickly with comfortable scores in the next two sets. However, when the fourth set went to deuce it was Woods who again held his nerve to set up a decider. Woods needed to avoid Turner’s heavy chops and sudden backhand attacks, whilst putting away any of his own opportunities. He did this effectively to take the decider.
Smith wrapped up his second victory with great service returning against Andrew Murphy in four sets. Then followed two long five set games where the home players, Chris Knowles and Murphy both held on for victory. Knowles won 14-12 against Nick Woods and Murphy 11-9 against Kevin Wilson. Despite losing this was a great effort from Wilson who has been out of the game for more than a year with injury.
Smith finished the night in style with a straight sets win against his opposite number one, Alan Turner where his backhand serves followed up with forehand attacks wide across the table gave his opponent little opportunity to use his own attacking weapon; his backhand.
Besides the top two Hawcoat Park teams and Millom FP two other teams could be in the mix at the top of the League. Saints first team include top player Jonny Crawford backed up by Paul Ackred and Baz Lowden. If either of these two can add to Crawford’s wins this team are capable of defeating any of their rivals. The other team eyeing up possible success are newly promoted Furness CC “A” comprising three top juniors Ryan Cotton, Ben McDonald and Matty Rigg. Their rankings suggest they will challenge for honours. Talk from within the club points to a top three finish as their target for the season. Results from last season when they were called upon to play up show that all three players have gained wins against top players.