Back in Europe – Back winning.
After some years absence, Ireland returned to the European Pétanque stage in Albena, Bulgaria for the European Mens Triples Chamionships. Travel to and from the venue was time consuming and tiring – some players left home at midnight one day and got to the venue at 10 pm that night – on the way back it was an 0530 start with some not getting home until 0230 the next day.
As for the games themselves Ireland in the shape of Rene and Jimmy Di Fusco, Terry Green and Barra Ó hEireamhóin, who all got game time over the event, came up against a strong Solvenia team who at one point raced into a 12-0 lead. The boys in green managed to pull back 5 points but in the end were beaten 13-5.
Round 2 saw an encounter with Finland and in a close game there was never more than 5 points in until the final end when Ireland, leading 10-8, finished off with three points to seal the win. The team and coach Denis Nightingale were well chuffed having scored a victory on the opening day.
Round three saw another close game with our ‘auld enemy’ and seemingly perpetual Celtic Challenge Champions, Scotland. The game was nip and tuck right up until the whistle blew and in the remainng 2 ends the Scots just snuck it 11-9.
In round 4 the opponents were another of our regular opponents Wales and while the 13-0 scoreline does not reflect the quality of Ireland’s play it was perhaps more a case of travel and earlier play catching up with the team. As a mark of respect for Welsh Veteran Peter Westall who sadly passed away in Bulgaria a few days earlier both teams wore black armbands during the game. Peter was a friend as well as an opponent that many of us had met over the years and he will be sadly missed.
So on to the day’s final game and we came up against Estonia. Once again it was a very tight match but once Ireland took a 2-0 lead after the first end they were never caught and after the whistle and the final two ends Ireland held on to win 8 points to 6.
After the first days play Ireland had qualified for the Nations Cup and found themselves in the company of such countries as Monaco, Portugal, Scotland and England. Based on our ranking after day one we were in the same poule as Jersey, Portugal and the host nation Bulgaria.
First up was Jersey and a nights sleep, or was it the beer!, saw a rejuvinated Ireland race into a 5-0 lead after the first end. The next 8 ends saw the teams swap points and the lead a number of times. 12-11 going into the final end Ireland managed to get the vital 13th point and seal their 3rd victory out of 6.
The more games you win at these events the tougher your next opponents will be and our final 2 poule games against Bulgaria and Portugal were closer than the 13-0 and 13-1 scorelines would suggest but that brought an end to Ireland’s participation in the 2019 championships.
So overall how did we do? Well as said above we won 3 of our 8 games – we took the scalp of Finland who made it to the 1/4 finals of the Nations Cup and to be beaten by eventual runners-up Portugal was no disgrace either. The Slovenians who we played in our very first game made it all the way to the semi finals of the main event where they lost out to the eventual winners Italy, an Italian triple that included the individual Shooting Champion in their ranks!
Speaking of the Shooting Competition our own Rene Di Fusco had the honour of representing his adopted country and while the Pétanque gods were not smiling on him the experience of playing in such exhalted company will do him no harm.
Our eventual ranking was equal 9th in the Nations Cup – not good enough to get us into next year’s World Championships but there will be another chance in 2021 with the European Championships scheduled for France. Watch this space for details!