St Benildus will have a Bodley team, a BA team and an Armstrong B for 2015/16 after an excellent final day of the leagues – but in the afternoon, the Armstrong A (as they are now known!) gave the Bs a stark warning of what might lie ahead next season.
We had four teams playing in the morning session, which meant a rather chaotic start to the day as some teams ended up with more than their fair share of equipment, leaving others to scramble around. Ten minutes after the nominal start time of the round, I was still being asked if we had another black king – any other piece, and I might have got away with saying to wait until one was swapped off elsewhere…
In the Bodley, the As just needed a draw against Malahide to seal promotion, and if we could keep within 1½ points of Curragh’s final round score, we’d come second. The Bs, meanwhile, needed to draw with Rathmines A and trust that Enniscorthy would beat Bray/Greystones.
An hour in and things were looking good for the Bs, but the As’ game was still very much in the balance. Jack had withdrawn ill the night before, so we were again shorn of our board 1. Luke and William were pawns down, Finn had reached a drawn king and pawn ending against Malahide’s draw specialist – but his opponent was refusing to accept the draw, knowing they needed a 4-1 win to pass us out. Desmond was in a rather complicated tactical battle which looked like it could go either way, while Seán was facing into a pawn storm. Meanwhile, Curragh were starting to get the upper hands on a couple of boards against mid-table Elm Mount. After four years of falling one place short of promotion, it would be just our luck to come fourth and miss out once more!
But Finn’s game was eventually agreed a draw, and it was a turning point in the match. About half an hour later, Luke won back the pawn he’d been down and offered a draw. His opponent didn’t take too long to accept – an indication that Malahide had given up on promotion, not helped by the fact that their board-prize chasing top board had lost a piece against William.
In the end, it was left to captain Desmond to secure the draw that confirmed promotion. And when Seán followed suit a few minutes later, the focus now turned to whether we could stay ahead of Curragh and claim second. We’d started the day two points ahead of Curragh, but having lost to them, we’d lose on tie-break if we were level. But with two more points in the bag for us, Curragh now needed 4-1 – and more if William could convert. They won the first after a nice queen sac brought about mate, but then lost the second in a king and pawn ending. When one of the remaining Curragh players picked up his rook and then realised it had no safe squares to go to, second was more or less confirmed. William saw out his win, Curragh lost 3-2 and we second by three points – the late-season slump was forgotten and there’s a BA campaign to look forward to next year!
The Bs, meanwhile, had torn into their opponents, Rathmines A, one of only two teams below us in the league going into the day. Aodhán had won a pawn – and with it had built up a crushing positional advantage which soon translated into a win. Paddy had lost his f7 pawn and his king was on the run as a result, but Liam and even Tim were material up – Tim’s first win of the season was the one which put us 3-1 up and confirmed survival. Cal, meanwhile, finished off a decent season on board 1 with a draw as we ended up winning 3½-1½. Enniscorthy did the needy in the other match, winning 4½-½, and we were safe – in fact, we ended up eighth after passing out Inchicore as well.
The O’Hanlon were also on at the same time, with a bit of a ravaged team, not helped by the fact that the Bodleys and the Heidenfeld were calling first dibs on players, with the O’Hanlon having to make do with everyone else. At 9:15am, they were even scratching board 6, but Frank Kelly forfeited a morning getting ready for a Leinster/Celtic double-header and came in for a game instead. He gave it a right go, ultimately going down after a double-edged game where both sides attacked on opposite sides with minimal enough consideration of king safety. Declan also went down on 5, but elsewhere, it was a good morning’s work for our third team – Anastasija drew, Stephen won to keep his 100% record for the season (3/3), Eddie won to finish what had been a poor season with a burst of 3/4, while Odhrán beat a titled player, Gearóidín Uí Laighleis WCM, on board 1. In the final standings, we were only one point off fourth, and as the club gets stronger, a promotion tilt mayn’t be out of the question next season.
That just left the Heidenfeld from the morning session, resuming 1-0 down after I’d gotten thumped against Inchicore for the second match in a row. But we weren’t the only ones who’d dropped points in advance of the final day – Inchicore A had started with two draws against Rathmines B in mid-week, while Celbridge had picked up 1/3 from their first three games against Malahide. So already, we had a bit of a psychological advantage – we just needed to score 2 fewer than Inchicore A and 3 fewer than Celbridge – so the target to ensure neither could finish ahead of us had been reduced from 6-2 to 5-3.
The two Bodleys’ fates were more or less decided by the time any results came in in the Heidenfeld – Brendan had won a pawn, but then lost it again until, with 12 minutes left to his opponent’s one hour, he was offered a draw. After consideration and consultation, we decided to take it – but then his opponent was nowhere to be found. Brendan’s clock ticked down to 11 minutes, then 10, then 9, then 8… But his opponent did come back, and a draw was agreed. The target was now just 4½ points.
In the other matches, bottom-of-the-table Phibsboro were amazingly hammering Rathmines A – Phibsboro actually avoided relegation in the end, having looked dead and buried for so long – and Malahide were picking off draws against Celbridge, who would end up not winning a single game of their final 8. Promotion was now a two-horse race, and the next bustle of excitement came when Mariusz’ opponent – who appeared to have weathered Mariusz’ attack – fell for a tactic which lost material. The game ended up in R+3 v B+3, which was trickier than it looked, but eventually, with less than 90 seconds on his clock and no increments, Mariusz was able to “sac” the exchange on a pawn for a winning pawn ending. His opponent didn’t have to take, of course, but that just meant Mariusz could repeat the trick and go two pawns and an exchange up. When his opponent then hung his bishop next move, the game was over. Ciarán Mahon’s opponent had simply hung a piece, but Inchicore A had picked two wins of their own, one in a knight and pawn ending which had looked drawn, and had taken a draw off Henry Li. And when Mihailo, who had been better, allowed his opponent gang up with bishop rook and queen against g2 (with Mihailo’s queen precariously placed on g3), he was quickly mated and suddenly things were looking a bit ropey, even if the target was now down to 3 more points.
Michael took a draw on board 1 – for the second Inchicore game in a row, he’d prepared for an opponent who hadn’t been able to play – while Ciarán M converted his win. And after a Gonzaga player on Rathmines’ team did us a favour (!) and picked up a win, we were only a half point away from promotion. That came on board 6, when Rathmines picked a second win (their only two wins of the match coming in reasonably quick succession), and we were, amazingly, promoted. Ciarán R then finished off his opponent in a R+4 v R+3 ending to claim a board prize after a number of seasons of falling at the final hurdle, while Ross – who had less than a minute on his clock, again with no increments, which were being discouraged on the final day in order not to delay the afternoon session – reacted to news of the promotion by speeding right up, getting a knight stuck in his opponent’s position and ultimately winning a rook and the game. I didn’t see the last couple of Inchicore games to end – and at one stage, there were just four games left in the whole division, all involving either Benildus or Inchicore – but when the dust settled, we had won 5-3 and Inchicore had drawn 4-4, so we had actually extended our gap back to second.
Only the Armstrong were up in the afternoon; we needed to match Trinity’s score against Dún Laoghaire in our own game against Elm Mount A. We weren’t helped by being short half a squad – despite ten in the panel, we had to use three Heidenfeld players, a luxury which won’t be available next season – but even then, we couldn’t really have seen what was coming! John Gibson played a mad gambit line – “Just like a John Healy game”, he commented to me about ten moves in – and was two pawns down when he offered a draw. His opponent declined, and accepted resignation three moves later.
This, of course, completely distracted me from my game, which I lost with the minimum of fuss. But then Pawel lost, Gerry lost (a mad game where he was a rook for two pawns down at one stage, but had three pieces around his opponent’s king), Brendan lost and Mihailo lost (on time in a level endgame – though he had increments, he got distracted close to the 0:00 mark and his flag fell…) 6-0 down, it was left to Stephen Brady and Ross to claim our only draws of the afternoon – Stephen against fellow FM David Fitzsimons, and Ross by claiming a perpetual against Oliver Dunne on the bottom board. The result meant we ended up in fourth, behind Elm Mount, and had even been in danger of finishing fifth at one stage, but Bray needed 6½ against Kilkenny and could only get 4½. For the Armstrong, there’s always next year. For the Armstrong B, a warning of what lies ahead next season!