The last day of the leagues saw the club secure its first ever double – indeed, the first double achieved by any club across Leinster in five years – as we took home both the Heidenfeld Trophy and the O’Hanlon Cup. Elsewhere, five players ended up going unbeaten through the season, having played five games or more, while we finished sixth in the O’Hanlon for the fourth year running.
We had four teams down to play in the morning session – though thankfully, Bray asked to play the Bodley game early, so some element of logistical worry was relieved! In that match, Des and Ben took two more solid scalps – 1100s each – and while Bray took the other three boards to take overall match victory, the result was largely irrelevant to both sides, as we’ll both be meeting again in the Bodley next season. Top scorer for the team was Felix on 4½/5, though the Bodley’s problems were typified by the fact that Felix finished as top scorer despite only managing to get in one game after Christmas!
So that left “just” the O’Hanlon A, the O’Hanlon B and the Heidenfeld in action on the day, with the O’Hanlon A and Heidenfeld holding 2½ and 3 point leads at the top of their tables respectively. However, the Heidenfeld were missing a couple of players, and so a battle ensued between them and the O’Hanlon A over subs. The O’Hanlon A had seven players available, which accounted for one of the subs, but there was still one more slot going which, annoyingly, none of the O’Hanlon A and even the top of the O’Hanlon B didn’t want to fill. In the end, we subbed up from the Bodley, but with Curragh having won 8-0 in the previous round and with our opponents, Ballinsloe, capable of out-rating us almost across the boards if they pulled a full team out, the worry was that 3 points wouldn’t be enough to hold on to the league – yet the O’Hanlon were similarly worried that their rivals, Gorey and Enniscorthy, were also capable of pulling off big wins and dumping us down into third.
In the end, neither of us needed to worry. Ballinasloe didn’t come close to fielding a full-strength team – and indeed, when one of their players pulled out sick shortly before they were due to travel, they were reduced to seven players, which meant the whole issue of who was to play board 8 was completely redundant, and Felix had made the long trip out for nothing. I found myself with an 800-point rating advantage on board 6, and duly won in half an hour in a King’s Gambit game where I could take, rather than sacced, on f7. Tim drew inside an hour – he would have taken a board prize had he won, but rather philosophically, he noted he was losing the game, and was more than happy to bail out into a draw – and our lead was up to 5½ points, with us looking comfortable on the other boards, and with title rivals Curragh starting to struggle against bottom-of-the-table Malahide, things were starting to look quite good.
Malahide’s relegation fight from the Heidenfeld meant the O’Hanlon wasn’t their top priority, and they too had a much weakened side our against our As. Shay Scott, who had spent most of the season on board 6, found himself promoted to board 2, while Tom O’Sullivan was the only other player who had played more than twice for the team all season, and the bottom boards saw two 700-rated players. Somewhat surprisingly, Eddie was held by one of the 700s – Eddie usually hammers players rated below him, but had been in trouble for a good chunk of this game – but we did get a win on the board when Ciarán M won on board 1. It was a slightly controversial game though, in which the controller had to intervene early on to ask why Malahide’s king and queen were on the wrong squares just 12 moves into the game. Had the board been set up incorrectly, it could have required the entire game to be restarted, creating a big headache given the tight schedule of the day, but it turned out that the pieces had gotten there naturally, even if the solution was like a retrograde puzzle. Black had played c5, Qb6, Qg6 and f5, had then played Kd8 to stop a knight coming to c7 winning the entombed a8 rook, and then brought his queen back to e8! Anyways, despite dropping a pawn, Ciarán’s advantage was still enough, and we required just 1½ more points for promotion, and 2½ more for the title.
It was fairly evident though that we’d have to get most of those points ourselves, as Gorey and Enniscorthy were racking up the points against Bray and Drogheda; both were on course for close on 6-0 wins. Meanwhile, the Bs were up against Elm Mount A, and were heavily out-rated. Nicky couldn’t overturn a 350-point rating gap and lost, but we were going ok on the other boards. Luke, the only player to have a ratings advantage, was better, while Aodhán was having a right go against Pat Fitzsimons; he had pawns on h4, g4 and f4, while Pat had a blockaded pawn on c7 of his own.
The Heidenfeld quickly racked up the few points they needed – indeed, by the end, we had recorded a huge 7-1 win. Constantin won to take him to 9½/11 and at least a share of the club’s top scorer trophy – Gerry could match it with a win in the afternoon – while Michael also won to end the season on an unbeaten 6/9 and Anastasija and Mariusz also added wins, while Ross was last to finish with a tight draw. In the end, Curragh laboured to a 4½-3½ win over Malahide, taking victory in the last game of the morning to finish, and we had a 5½ point gap at the top –
The O’Hanlon A were also starting to rack up the points; Seán was three pawns up in a queen and pawn ending, and although he was into his last five minutes – and queen and pawn endings are notoriously tricky, with many threats of perpetual! – he was able to calmly pick up a couple more pawns and, had his opponent opted to resign instead of swapping off queens, which was tantamount to the same thing, he was pipped to that honour by Ciarán, who got a protected passed pawn early on with the black side of a French KIA. If you take it that he had, minutes earlier, just won the Heidenfeld as well by virtue of having subbed up on the opening day of the season, this means Ciarán has now won every division except the O’Sullivan and the Armstrong. So no prizes for guessing what team he’ll be on next season!
Seán did win moments later, and Odhrán and Brendan added further wins as the team racked up their biggest win of the season, 5½-½. That was more than enough to seal the title without worrying about how others were doing – which was for the best, as Enniscorthy pulled a win out of what had looked a draw at best on the last board to win 6-0, while Gorey had looked like winning 5½-½ when, two pieces and two pawns up on the last board with a win needed for promotion, their player hung back-rank mate.
The Bs, meanwhile, were pulling off another solid result against Elm Mount. Liam lost – his first defeat of the season, in a game where he reached 2P v B, N + P, and was trying to swap off into the dreaded B+N ending – but William drew against Alex Goss on the top board, and Desmond and Luke won on the bottom two boards. Aodhán’s pawns had gotten to f3 and g3, with his opponent’s kingside pawns all gone, although a second glance at the position revealed it was slightly less interesting as he was a rook down. The match ended in a 3½-2½ defeat, but coupled with Drogheda’s whitewash against Enniscorthy, it was enough to lift the team up to sixth. Liam and William were top scorers for the Bs with 6½/11 each, while Brendan’s 8/9 was the best for the As.
Although the O’Hanlon trophy hadn’t been returned by the time of the prizegiving, we went ahead and got a group photo of the two title-winning teams anyway. It’s the first double in the Leinster leagues since Cavan won the O’Hanlon and Bodley in 2011/12; before that, the then all-conquering Phibsboro won the Armstrong, Ennis and Bodley in 2007/08, declined promotion from the Ennis and won the Armstrong and Ennis again the following year, as well as being promoted from the Heidenfeld, BEA and Bodley! (Technically, Gonzaga had already sealed the Armstrong and O’Sullivan titles by the time of the afternoon session, but we’ll ignore that!)
In addition to Michael, Dylan, Ciarán R, Brendan and Odhrán all went unbeaten over the course of the season.
It was just the Armstrong in action in the afternoon, in a mid-table match against Balbriggan. Mihailo hung mate in two early on, and I followed suit not long after when going hideously wrong in a Polar Bear attack which I tried to turn into a Dutch Defence with colours reversed. Constantin did win to take his first point for the Armstrong at the third attempt, while Zdravko drew, as did Gerry, who ended the season on 9/11, meaning Constantin took the top scorer trophy outright. Stephen Brady pulled it back to 3-3, but Brendan and Vjekoslav lost the last two as we ended with a disappointing 5-3 defeat.
Finally, a quick nod to the two O’Sullivan teams, whose seasons finished last month. Daniel Fox top-scored for the As with 3½/8, while Lorcan Cooney scored 3½/5 to be best of the Bs.