The Ireland & Northern Ireland junior beach volleyball series final leg got underway last Sunday at Bettystown Beach. The final event for summer 2021 hosted 18 teams in total providing an excellent opportunity for the Irish teams to gain some additional match practice before the season ends.
The Ireland coaches used this opportunity to introduce some new teams to the junior girl event. Young future stars of Hackett/McHale at only 14 years old had their first taste of international match play. They headed out on court with a specific team goal of increasing development and gaining experience, however the young pairing unbelievably overcame Northern Ireland third seeds to get a much-deserved win on their first outing.
The junior girl event of two pools ensured a variety of matches for all teams throughout the day. In Group B, two Irish teams that train out of the West Development Centre, Jones/O’Sullivan, & McHugh/Quinn joined Ireland number two pairing of Creighton/McNichols and newly formed team Quinlivan-Nolan/Kilroy. They would all face the tough challenge of Number 1 Northern Ireland pairing and silver medalists from the first leg Duke/Tucina.
It turned out to be a successful day for the Ireland teams, who all registered wins. However, progressing to the semi finals would only be the top two of Creighton/McNichols & Duke/Tucina.
In the second pool, previous gold medalists Moloney/Connolly who train out of the East Development Centre would compete against Northern Ireland 2 and 3. Also within the group we had new team Lumelay/Lawlor, match off against Pol/Oliveira, and the final team of Hackett/McHale. Once again, all Ireland teams registered strong wins which demonstrated to the coaches clear development and stronger team relationships building. By early afternoon it was Moloney/Connolly who topped the group and Lumelay/Lawlor coming in a close second.
Moloney/Connolly once again produced their very finest volleyball as they overcame the top seeded Northern Ireland pair and then the Ireland number two pairing in the final to take gold once again in ruthless style. In the third and fourth place playoff Lumelay/Lawlor saw out a tight match of 21-18, 21-17 to register gold, silver and bronze for the Ireland squads.
The junior boys format took a slightly different approach with one larger pool of teams. Gilmartin who claimed silver during the last event found a new partner in Peter McGlynn from Cork. His old partner Humphreys sustained an ankle injury in the lead up to the event. The partnership took some time to adapt to each other’s play however the team managed to grab enough wins to qualify through to the knockouts.
Davoren/O’Riordain would hold the number one seeding for boys going into this event and they lived up to it winning six from six to top the group. The other Ireland teams of Carey/Wiley produced some fantastic plays to secure a top 4 in the group while Leamy/Kelly grabbed a vital win over Northern Ireland’s Skansen/Craig to ensure their slot also in the knockout phase.
After some incredible volleyball in the quarterfinals the draw fell unkindly to both nations as it would be an IRE vs IRE in semi final 1 while NIR VS NIR competed in semi two.
The Ireland teams of Gilmartin/McGlynn played out a ferocious match and just booked a place in the final by overcoming Davoren/O’Riordain 21-18. Over in the NIR semi final Dally/Noble dug deep to beat Laird/Kincaid in another tight finish of 21-19.
The NIR pairing had defeated the IRE team early in the day and when they took the first set 21-10 it seemed as if the gold medal for junior boys would once against head north. However, Gilmartin/McGlynn regrouped to take the second 21-17 and then an unbelievable final set of 15-13 to secure Gold. Davoren/O’Riordain played the usual high-level volleyball we expect from them to take home once again the bronze medal.
Here is what some of our gold medalists had to say.
Grace Moloney- Gold Medalist
“It was a huge honour to represent Ireland twice over the last few months on the international beach circuit. Both Laura and I were delighted to retain our title from the first competition. It has been a pleasure to play with Laura for the summer tour and I am very grateful for the excellent coaching I have received. I would also like to thank Gary, Conor and all at Volleyball Ireland for the excellent organisation of the tournaments all summer long.”
Gareth Gilmartin – Gold Medalist
“Early in the week I didn’t know how I’d get on with Cian’s injury, all the training and time we put in was definitely a big blow but Peter was willing to try his hand at beach volleyball and see what it’s all about. In the group games we tried different things to see what worked for us and what didn’t. Once we got our game sorted we knew we could put every team under pressure from the service line and that’s what we targeted in all our knockout games. When the ball was returned we played way smarter, instead of heavy hitting we just let the other team work for it by finding the pockets of space. Losing the first set in the final, myself and Peter knew we weren’t playing with the same energy or hunger we had on the other games so we went out guns blazing after our talk and didn’t turn back. After the first few games I didn’t think we would be winning gold but with the help and support of Ferdie throughout the day, it was definitely what got us across the line in the end. Thanks to all the coaches for all the hard work they put in on getting us to this stage and to Volleyball Ireland for organizing such a smoothly ran tournament.”
After witnessing the Ireland teams secure five of the six medals up for grabs Luciana Sombra, Head Coach of the Junior beach programme summed everything up for us “Yesterday’s tournament demonstrated that beach volleyball in Ireland is rapidly becoming one of the country’s fastest growing new sports offering fun, athleticism and plenty of fresh air! Everyone who played was a winner!”