Only two of our three teams involved on the final day of the leagues made their goals, but a remarkable final day’s action still saw the 2012/13 season end as our most successful in a long time.
The morning session saw the Heidenfeld and the O’Hanlon both looking to avoid the drop. Things were looking good the night before, with full-strength teams for both…but on Sunday morning, unprecedented developments – three players dropped out of the Heidenfeld within 20 minutes of each other and an hour of the start of the match. As our first port of call for subs were playing at the same time, I “enjoyed” a rather fruitless 20 minutes ringing around our Bodley for players and had almost given up on finding a teenager awake at 9am on a Sunday morning when, with my last call, I found Luke Hayden hadn’t turned his phone off the night before. So we had 12 players to split between the two teams, but which was in more relegation trouble? Remove too many O’Hanlon players and Heidenfeld could be saved at the O’Hanlon’s expense. In the end, the decision was mainly taken out of my hands as, having had to divert to collect Luke, I was late for the start and arrived to find the matches started, with Odhrán on the Heidenfeld board 6, and 7 and 8 scratched. It was probably a better idea to bump up one more from the O’Hanlon and split the walkovers, but still, we were underway.
Round 10 in the O’Hanlon only finished on Thursday, with the result that actually, we just needed two points to confirm safety, even if Trinity won 6-0. They were confirmed by midday – Ross, whose season has transformed since winning the appeal over his result against Dublin – got a passed outside pawn against Mervyn Honner; he duly pushed it, and Mervyn resigned. When the first game in the Trinity v Finglas match ended with victory for Finglas, we were safe.
We didn’t stop there though. Eddie, as per usual, was finished early, picking up the full point, while sub Luke Hayden made it 3-0. Dan O’Brien went on a king hunt, picked up an exchange and ended up with 2R+P v R, N+P. It looked quite awkward, but he just went after his opponent’s pawn and, when his opponent tried too hard to defend it, the two rooks lined up for mate. Desmond and Nicky finished off with draws to seal a 5-1 win. It made it four wins in a row to finish the season off, and the average of 4¼ points per game would, sustained over the course of the season, have been six points more than champions Drogheda scored. As it is, from looking in serious relegation trouble after a round 7 defeat to Curragh, we finished seventh, half a point off 50% and 6 points off promotion. There appears no reason we can’t build on that next season!
In the Heidenfeld, meanwhile, things were looking tough. We started the day ninth, ahead of Kilkenny, Rathmines and already-relegated Tallaght. Kilkenny and Tallaght were playing each other, and when the latter declared just six boards – and board 5 failed to arrive – we knew we weren’t going to finish ahead of Kilkenny. They wound up winning 7-0 to finish 2½ points ahead of us.
So it was us or Rathmines; if they scored 3½ more than us, we were down. After two hours, we were fairly solid on all boards, but Rathmines were a pawn up on three boards and level enough on the others – even when 500 points out-rated on the bottom two – and it looked like being a real squeaky bum finish.
Ciarán eased the nerves with the first result of the afternoon; Vincent Bissett mis-played a gambit line in the French and Ciarán wound up a pawn for next to nothing. When I said I’d take early draws wherever – and admitted to having already offered a draw in my game – Ciarán went back and agreed a draw, muttering about the 12 rating points I’d potentially cost him!
A couple of minutes later, Ronan Sweeney claimed an impressive draw on 4. Having last month lost his first game in five years – against an 1180 – he this time survived an apparent hung pawn to draw against a 1680. Rathmines now needed 4½.
A few minutes later, we could have had a third result. Mariusz had two bishops for a rook, and his opponent, Melvyn King, offered a draw, but Mariusz turned it down. Needless to say, I wasn’t best pleased (!), but 45 minutes later, Melvyn’s rook was hemmed back in on h1, desperately holding up a black pawn on h2 while the two bishops swarmed to cover all the surrounding squares. The rook had to fall, and with it, the game went too.
The next few games saw the pressure re-build – Michael Hanley went down to a nice sac on h7, I was in a hugely cramped position and Rathmines had clocked up a couple of wins of their own. However, games were running out for them, and when they lost on board 2, our safety was confirmed with three boards still remaining. I duly lost, Rathmines drew their last and only Odhrán was left. He’d sacced a piece for two pawns against his 1600-rated opponent, but being the last game in the entire division, both players were in desperate time trouble. He reached Q+4 v Q, N+2, lost a pawn which looked like it might have legs and, with six seconds left, things looked bleak (if irrelevant, as we were already safe). Then, however, his opponent made an illegal move; Odhrán stopped the clock and got an extra two minutes. A couple of moves later, and his opponent blundered away the knight to a check fork, and without really needing to ask the question, a draw was agreed. Another decent result for Odhrán, who should jump above 1300 when the new ratings come out in a week or so.
In the afternoon, it was the Armstrong’s turn. Ciarán, by virtue of having had the easiest time of it in the morning, was drafted in as a sub and made short work of Úna O’Boyle WCM, reaching mate in 3 by move 21, having missed a mate in 3 as early as move 17. That made it 3- -1 – John Healy made up for his 8-move defeat against the same opposition at the same stage of the season last year with a 17-move win this time, while John Gibson’s opponent turned up just over an hour after the start time and though the clock didn’t show an hour gone, John claimed a walkover and was given it; the rule goes off the game’s start time, not what’s on the clock.
As the games wore on, it became evident that Rathmines A – the reigning Armstrong champions – were suddenly in a serious battle against relegation. Pushing for every point, crucial blunders were made. Brendan Lyons got into a repetition of moves and offered a draw, but his opponent, pushing for a win, turned it down. The best move was to take the repetition; the next best was losing. Sometimes it pays to know when a game is a draw, and I say that from the experience of pushing too hard and losing a potentially decisive last-round Armstrong game myself!
A look around the other games showed the trouble Rathmines A were in. Balbriggan’s game ended relatively quickly; they lost 4½-3½ to Trinity, so Rathmines needed 3 to catch Balbriggan. Dublin, meanwhile, were crushing Dún Laoghaire with former St Benildus player John Kennedy amazingly on board 6. It transpired that Dublin were likely to end up with 6½ – the worst possible result, which meant Rathmines needed 3 to catch both them and Dún Laoghaire as well. Darren McCabe was a pawn up against Gerry in an opposite-colour bishop endgame, but also pushed too hard, and suddenly Gerry had an unstoppable passed pawn and 20 seconds on the clock. When a quick tactic proved the pawn couldn’t be stopped, Gerry first offered and then claimed a draw – being now down to 7 seconds – citing rule 10.2 in the FIDE rule book. The controller was called, but asked that play continue (though didn’t award Darren the stipulated two minutes). Darren spent the next ten minutes looking at the other games to see if he could even take the draw, even apologising to some of the Benildus players for his actions! In fairness, we’ve all been there, so the situation was perfectly understandable. Things got worse as Darren was looking – Dave Willow’s opponent had to settle for a perpetual, Pawel was two pawns down but conjured up a mating attack which could only be stopped by the concession of a rook, while Dublin’s points kept rolling in. Rathmines did win on board 2, spoiling Thomas Bittner’s final league game for the club, and Darren re-took his seat and played on. When Gerry’s flag fell, he was three forced moves away from leaving Darren without mating material and though the controller ruled in favour of Darren – officially awarding the win – Gerry was considering an appeal on the basis that the aforementioned FIDE rule is quite clear.
In the end, neither that result nor the default penalty changed matters – when the dust settled, the reigning champions were relegated in possibly the tightest finish ever seen in the Armstrong –
The league site gives Rathmines an extra 1½ points – for declaring board 5 a walkover, not a default, and for awarding Rathmines A board 1, with Dublin staying up tie-break. That’d mean that just half a point separated 8th and 11th, and Rathmines A go down (along with their B team) just five points off a 50% score. Our own survival in 2003/04 was maybe more dramatic – Brendan Lyons mating with seconds remaining in the last game of the entire leagues to move us half a point ahead of two other teams – but four teams so close is surely unprecedented. Rathmines A must now be targetting Celbridge’s record 70½ point haul in this season’s Heidenfeld. For our part, meanwhile, Gonzaga were held to a 4-4 draw by Elm Mount, so third place was just beyond us. But a valiant effort on our part all the same.
And that’s 2012/13 over and done with! The Bodley continues until the middle of April, by which time, the Cup competitions will be underway. We’ve entered two Branagan and two William Brennan teams; details of the draw will be posted here when we hear it.