In which the Armstrong B set an unwanted record, but we’ll still have a club derby next season after the O’Hanlon stormed to a top-half finish and the BEA beat off the challenge of a very determined Naomh Barróg side to secure back-to-back promotions.
The morning session saw the Bodley and the O’Hanlon; the former team had nothing to play for, though the players did as they had been pretty much entirely co-opted onto the O’Hanlon, in need of subs yet again. Just Des remained on the Bodley, helped out only by Paddy and Stephen from the O’Sullivan. Up against a very strong Blanch A side, a 5-0 defeat was always on the cards, and that’s how it panned out. Fortunately, the result didn’t have any impact on the promotion race in the end as Malahide, who started the day a half point behind Blanch A, lost 4-1 to Trinity, and so Blanch ultimately needed just a single point against us, which they would surely have gotten even against a full team.
The final tables aren’t yet updated, but it looks like we’ll have ended up in fifth. However, that includes two 5-0 whitewashes when shorn of pretty much all the regular squad due to subbing requirements. Without that impediment, we could well have picked up enough points to finish third – Malahide, who did come third, only lost to champions Trinity and to us, for example. One of the targets for next season will have to be a proper promotion run for the Bodley – it’s been a while!
While we wait for final tables, it’s worth looking at how each team did across the various boards. So starting with the Bodley, and taking out walkovers – both for and against – we have –
Take out the two 5-0 defeats and the team scored 60%, not a million miles off the 68% our As scored last year or the 69% Blanch A scored this year. Bray and Kilkenny will be coming up from the O’Sullivan and will be decent opposition next season, but not as strong as some of the teams we’ve faced in past years, including Trinity this season, and while the two relegated BEA sides look solid, it’s a while since a side relegated from the BEA has gone straight back up. Cal was top scorer on 7/9; both he and Liam could have challenged for board prizes had they not missed out games to help other teams.
For the O’Hanlon, a recent run of three matches unbeaten had given us a decent gap back to the drop – all we needed was a 3½-2½ defeat against Aer Lingus to stay up, and even that required Bray/Greystones to hammer Royal Lopez 6-0. However, there was a controversial start to our match as Aer Lingus’ captain informed Ben and Cal on boards 5 and 6 that they weren’t allowed to play! While the leagues controller was sought out – who, in fairness, had enough to be doing on the day – Aer Lingus sent their board 6 home, but I was at least able to step in as divisional controller and point out that the rule in question stated that a player could play on the last day of the leagues only if they had played for the club on any team during the season. Ben and Cal hadn’t played for the O’Hanlon previously, but had both played for the BEA and Bodley, so were perfectly entitled to play now. Aer Lingus’ board 6 was invited back to the venue, and some 20 minutes late, the last two matches in the division got underway.
Eddie, rather annoyed by all this, made it a point of hammering his opponent, and duly did so, giving up two pieces for a rook and a few pawns and ultimately mating with 7 minutes gone on his clock. But Cal lost on 5, while Bray were racking up the points against Royal Lopez – they were soon 3-1 up, helped by a walkover on 6, and it was getting a little bit nervy again.
Celbridge had also scratched a board against Inchicore, and though they drew first blood there, an Inchicore win soon meant that we didn’t have to worry about a surge from Kildare; it was now either Bray/Greystones, Aer Lingus or us.
But Bray’s dropped point meant our target was now just 1½-4½. Liam gave his opponent an unstoppable pawn in a king and pawn ending, but if his opponent pushed to promote, he would immediately get mated by Liam’s own passed pawn -starting off two ranks behind his opponent’s pawn, it would make up the time through checks. His opponent saw this and tried to run his king instead, which just meant he was a queen down, and safety was assured. Desmond – whose final-day draw last season had sealed promotion for the Bodley – drew moments later, and we could breathe easy.
It was needed as, in the end, Bray beat Lopez 5-1 – now the only question was would Bray pass out Aer Lingus; Aer Lingus needed to win the last two games to stay up. That wasn’t to be as Ben won on 6, while Odhrán drew on 1 to secure a third 4-2 win in four games for us. Again, final tables aren’t available, but we passed out Royal Lopez anyway, drew level with Drogheda and possibly passed Elm Mount as well, who last I saw were fairly putting it up to Gonzaga, though they needed a draw to keep ahead of us. All that would put us in joint fifth, though behind Drogheda on tie-break. Target 2 for the club for next season is to make a proper bid for an Ennis team!
In terms of board percentages, the O’Hanlon’s season looks like this –
It’s easy to see what board we’ll be looking to for extra points next season! Two of the board 6 defaults were by our opponents, but still, a full O’Hanlon team will get more points.
That was it for the morning session, though Eddie and Odhrán were both hanging around over lunch ahead of Armstrong A action in the afternoon. The Armstrong B were also up, as were the BEA, who were vying with Naomh Barróg for promotion and, as a result, both were invited to play in the main room, while the rest of the BEA was split over two other rooms in the ALSAA complex. We needed just to score more against bottom side Balbriggan than Naomh Barróg could manage against champions Enniscorthy, which all sounded fairly straightforward. When the games got underway, Luke picked up a win inside an hour to settle early nerves, but other than that, it was looking like it could be a tight afternoon. Naomh Barróg were having a right go at Enniscorthy, and were better on one board and certainly no worse on three. And by the time they lost board 1, they were winning on two boards, while Aodhán had dropped a piece, Seán had lost an exchange and Nicky had allowed a capture on f3 when she had to retake with a pawn.
William, however, won a piece and the game to not only put us back on track, but take the club’s only board prize of the season and, with it, the top-scorer trophy. Enniscorthy won another board to mean we were both 2-0 up, and we needed just 1½ points from the remaining six games to take second – but we still had the same problem that it wasn’t clear where they were coming from. Mercedes had been a pawn up for Enniscorthy, but then lost, while they also hung one of two pieces to a double-attack on board 2 – who thought for half an hour before deciding to simply sac a third piece and see what happened.
But things slowly started to turn around in our favour. First, Aodhán won his piece back, and then Seán opened the board for his bishop pair, which won back a pawn. Nicky got her pawn structure repaired, and then Naomh Barróg’s flag fell on board 5, when they had been just a pawn up, albeit that they had been much better earlier on in the game. Shortly after, Seán gave news that he’d been offered a draw – it was now all we needed for promotion, so he headed back to his board to immediately accept, even though the game was probably starting to swing his way.
Naomh Barróg did win the last game in their match to go down to a narrow 3-2 defeat, but though Aodhán ended up losing a king and pawn ending, Nicky – admitting that her head had gone but waving away any news of promotion! – was always better in her ending, though had to settle for a draw after both sides promoted, leaving Q+2 v Q+1 in Nicky’s favour. Given more time, it was probably winning, but two 3-2 wins was enough to mean Enniscorthy and St Benildus take a divisional 1-2 for the second year in a row. What odds three in a row next year?!
As with the Bodley, we had two matches where a huge chunk of the team suddenly vanished – on the opening day in Drogheda, when we had no idea there’d be a promotion race at all, and away to our main rivals Naomh Barróg last month when the musical was on. The latter game in particular, where we sandbagged the top boards, has affected our board percentages slightly –
It’s interesting that the only board on which we got a board prize score (75%) was the one board the board prize winner didn’t play on! Next season as the O’Hanlon B will likely be a struggle, but the flip side is that a season playing higher-rated players can only be of benefit. And of course, their next match is now against our As!
That just left the Armstrongs, needing wins at opposite ends of the table. The As had dropped to third and needed a win against Phibsboro to hold that spot (though Stephen Brady was adamant he “didn’t want to be a Denis Law”!), while the Bs also needed a win against Phibsboro, but could make do without by beating Kilkenny 5-3. The afternoon started off with the news that Alex Baburin was unavailable for Kilkenny. In a season when our opponents (Balbriggan aside) have generally had their strongest sides out for us, this was a rare positive boost, even if it meant Zdravko, who was well up for a second IM scalp in as many weeks, had to throw his opening prep out the window. By way of contrast, Curragh were up against a 1030 and 950 on the bottom two boards against Dún Laoghaire, 1350 points less than we’d faced in the same match earlier in the season.
It was Dylan who played Mark Quinn instead, and he quickly got into trouble, with a supported bishop on d6 stopping him castling. In the end, he only lasted 90 minutes and spent almost as long analysing the game after. That said, we had never really been looking to board 1 for points, so things were still pretty much as you were.
At the far end of the hall, Eddie won an exchange for the As, but in his own words “got greedy”, and instead of taking one move to consolidate, allowed a vicious counter-attack which brought resignation. The Bs needed Phibsboro kept to 2 points at most if their 5-3 target was to be reduced; for the As, it was looking like their end-of-season slump was to continue.
By this stage, Mariusz had hung a piece – but his opponent had missed it. Brendan was looking good against a Benko on 8, while Mihailo was involved in a tedious-looking French Exchange, though at least it wasn’t his fault, as he had black. Zdravko also had a dull enough position where the queens were off and an IQP for Kilkenny was the only difference in both positions. John had nabbed a pawn and would be a pawn up once he got around to taking back a pawn on f7, while on the As, Dave Willow’s opponent had 9 minutes left and was contemplating his tenth move.
By 5:30, the match was starting to take shape. Brendan had a number of minor pieces pointing at his opponent’s king, and finally found a pseudo-sac on g6 – the bishop couldn’t be re-taken because of mate, and Brendan wound up just two pawns up; resignation followed shortly. But then Tim – who I thought had been a bit better against Éamon Keogh NM; Tim disagreed,. and I guess he’d know more! – dropped a pawn in time trouble, and though he got to Q, B+7 v Q, B+5 with opposite colour bishops and the threat of a few more pawns falling and maybe holding a draw, he ended up losing around the same time as Brendan won. We now needed to win 4-1 in the remaining boards, which was quite the ask.
Three results then came in in five minutes. Dave Willow was first – his opponent finally played a few moves and, more importantly, picked up an impressive win given his time trouble problems – he was more than an hour down on the clock – and the fact that Dave looked to have been on the attack. Mariusz drew moments later – he had a mating attack, but his opponent found a perpetual, and moments later again, Mihailo won. We now needed 2½/3, though, and were really hanging on by a thread. Curragh, meanwhile, were 2½-½ up against Dún Laoghaire – whose 950 had drawn – and were doing well on the other boards. Curragh could catch Dún Laoghaire with a 6½-1½ win, which would also mean we would need 5½ to stay up.
Our As soon wilted – Odhrán recorded a good win on 7, while Stephen did win against his former club, but that was as good as it got. Gerry missed out on a board prize after going wrong with three seconds (plus increments) left on his clock – he had been an exchange up, but lost the winning thread. He ended as the team’s top scorer on 8/11, which was probably of little consolation. Pawel also drew, while Ciarán Mahon went for mate, hoping it was there as his opponent had mate in one himself – I didn’t see exactly how it finished, but Ciarán did lose, so I can make a good guess! The As ultimately lost 5-3 – a third defeat in a row – and finished fourth, the same as last season.
Curragh faltered slightly, only winning 5-3 themselves, which wasn’t enough to drag Dún Laoghaire into things. Curragh were now on 33½, the same score as Kilkenny, who had won the head-to-head, while we were on 32 and still needed 2½ to stay up. There were three games still going, all in St Benildus B v Kilkenny. John had never taken back on f7, the pawn had queened, costing John a piece, but he now had three pawns for it. Ross and Zdravko were pawns down; Zdravko had noted a while previously that he would have offered a draw in any other match ages previously, but now had left the IQP reach c3. We could at a strech hold the draw in any of the three matches – on all of them on a good day – but we still needed 2½/3, so we played on, like tending an ageing pet when you know you really should just bring it down to the vet.
It was Ross who finally ended it; he had reached N+3 v B+4, but his opponent’s pawn were running, and he had to give up a piece, and reached B+2 v K. His opponent had the wrong rook pawn, which Ross was blocking, but he also had a knight’s pawn alongside, and after one king incursion which almost ended in stalemate, he did find the winning plan – sod the rook’s pawn, get rid of it and promote the knight’s pawn – and we were down.
John Gibson came over at this stage to note he’d done all he could, but had reached P v N, and could he now take the draw? Yes, he could, and at the same time, Zdravko also resigned on 2 to bring about a 5-3 result – just what we’d been looking for, only the wrong way around.
So in the end, the As are fourth for the second year in a row and with two fewer points than last year. O’Hanlon subs scored 2/5 over the season; had we not had a second Armstrong side, we probably would have picked up a couple more points there. The Bs, meanwhile, finished bottom with what appears to be a record high score for a team finishing bottom in the Armstrong. In fact, in the previous 12 seasons, only two teams went down with more points than we picked up, although nobody stayed up with as few points as we scored.
In terms of board percentages, the As showed a slump in the middle maybe best explained by us splitting our strength and taking Tim (who only played three times last year) and Zdravko onto the Bs –
The Bs, meanwhile, had a superb season on the top board, picking up results against four titled players, but not surprisingly, boards 2 and 3 were by far the club’s worst across the top five teams. We out-performed the As on the bottom two boards; the wodge of 1600s/1700s in the club at the moment meaning that there wasn’t much difference between the two sides at the bottom. Mihailo was the Bs’ top scorer on 5½/9 (plus a walkover).
Next season’s goals will probably be improvement for the Armstrong, and promotion for the Heidenfeld. Any juniors moving up to the Armstrong would also be an interesting development!
Finally, to note the O’Sullivan, who weren’t involved on the final day of the leagues – their season was rather truncated by walkovers and a lack of cross-over friendlies as last year. But we did have the tougher of the two divisions – Bray and Kilkenny A both won their play-offs to secure promotion, and of course Gonzaga weren’t all that weak either, and probably would have gone up themselves had they not seemingly forgotten about one match. Top scorer here was Stephen on 3/3.