The Munster Open 2012 kicked off today with what is possibly one of the toughest Mens’ A draw I have seen since playing the Irish Squash Grand Prix. Graeme Stewart is seeded one, and we have Derek Ryan, world number 102 Arthur Gaskin, Keith Moran, Nigel Peyton, Steve Richardson, and Curragh Open 2012 winner Brian Byrne, all chasing him for the title. Add talented juniors such as Sean Conroy, and comeback kid Niall Rooney to the mix, and you have a draw that’s as tough as it gets!
That being said, apart form a Mens’ A we have a Mens’ B, C, D, and E section as well, and in the ladies’ section, the two Claires – O’Neill and Staunton – head the draws. And just like in the Curragh Open, the top four players of the Mens’ B draw will face of the 13 – 16 bracket in the Mens’ A draw. With strong players such as Ross Lillis, Michael Conroy and Michael Craig in the B-draw, there might be an upset or two on the books!
With such a competitive Mens’ A draw there were always going to be some tough first round matches, and Sean Conroy and Rory Birtwistle were first on court. Sean had just beaten 10th seed Rory in the Curragh Open, but Rory seemed to have learned from the loss and beat seventh seed Sean 3:1. Birtwistle is a fine competitor playing a tight, disciplined game. Add too many mistakes from Sean and you have a 3:1 upset win for Rory. Graeme Stewart, who I had the pleasure of sharing a train ride down from Dublin from (I questioned whether Graeme actually has squash gear in his racket bag, or only snacks and drinks), eased into the competition with a comfortable win over Clive Morgan. But Graeme will be severely tested yet again by Brian Byrne, who beat local Kevin Knox, who is back on court following a lengthy back injury.
Arthur Gaskin, Derek Ryan, and Keith Moran progressed comfortably to the quarter-finals, and Stevie Richardson (the sixth seed) beat myself 12:10 in the, well, third game, therewith also recording a 3:0 victory. So the stage was set for one of the most anticipated matches of the day, namely Nigel Peyton versus Niall Rooney. Niall, a former top 100 PSA player, has been struggling with injuries this year and last, and found himself seeded twelfth facing Nigel, who had featured in Ireland’s national team in the European Championships. It was a good competitive match and it seemed that Nigel would surge in front building a cushion of a few points, but came undone with a number of unforced errors. Niall will have been very happy with an important first round win, but also mentioned that he still has some way to go to recover the form that made him a national team player. However, judging by today’s performance he will go in facing Keith Moran perhaps not as favourite, but he certainly isn’t the underdog either. But this match is just one of many exciting match-ups: Arthur Gaskin, Irish number 1 and incidentally only seeded three here, will face Steve Richardson in the quarter-finals, and potentially Derek Ryan in the semis if he makes it through. That’s what I call a hard day’s work! – Dan Z.