Carlow Cavaliers were on top form on Thursday night in the Grade 1 South West Leinster Badminton League Mixed Final in Carlow Lawn Tennis Club. The Cavaliers took on Kilmessan Badminton Club from County Meath, who had previously beaten the 'Cavs' 5-3 and gone on to top the group stages of the competition. Kilmessan's reward for topping the group was a straight path to the final while the 'Cavs' had to do battle with Johnswell Badminton Club from Kilkenny in a semi final to earn the right to play Kilmessan for the title.
In the semi final Carlow Cavaliers were victorious but in truth the scoreline of 6-2 didn't quite tell the full story of the match with crucial games going the 'Cavs' way at vital stages. All in all it was a lot tighter than 6-2 suggested but Carlow Cavaliers had qualafied for their first ever SWLBL Grade 1 Final.
The final was a much more straight forward affair. Cavaliers came into the decider as slight underdogs. Having only managed to field a full team twice in the league campaign it's easy to see why 'outsiders' believed this final was Kilmessan's to lose. However this night was to be the coming of age for the Carlow Cavaliers.
Womens Doubles was first up as Laura Hennessy/Orla Flynn took on the newly crowned Grade A National Womens Doubles Champions Fiona Farrell/Lauren Au. Lauren and Fiona started well and in truth the gap they established early on was enough for them to weather the late storm from the Cavaliers to take the first set 21-16. Cavaliers started better in the second set but still couldn't quite shake off the Kilmessan pair who stuck with them up until the break at 11. On resumption Fiona and Lauren got off to a flier with Au in particular dominating the mid court and desite the best efforts of Laura and Orla the tie had had gone 21-16. Kilmessan took a 1-0 lead overall and maybe more significantly were 2 up in sets and 10 aces clear heading into the Mens Doubles.
Mens Doubles next and Brian O'Mahony/John Amond faced off against Cormac Meegan/Brian Colgan. The Cavaliers trailing overall knew nothing less than a 2-0 win here would do and wasted little time in getting to work. Kilmessan stayed with the National Grade A Champions and took the lead at 5-4 but in truth that was as good as it got for the Meath team. Cavaliers took an 11-6 lead into the interval and secured the set 21-13. The second set was a tighter affair until the Cavaliers kicked it up a gear. With the score 8-7 Cavaliers rattled off 10 unanswered points eventually taking the second set 21-8. All square in the overall score with Cavaliers leading by 11 aces heading into the second of the Ladies Doubles.
Kerry Fallon/Megan McLoughlin stepped on court next to face Ashleigh Coyne/Bethany Wong. The Cavs had lost this fixture in the league stages and had pinpointed it as a massive game to try and overturn. The task was made even tougher by the fact that Kilmessan pair had this season previously won the Leinster Autumn Open so Carlow Cavaliers were very much up against it. The match started off with both pairs feeling each other out. Kilmessan took a 3-1 lead and then the Cavs rallied taking advantage of early nerves to win 6 points in a row and take a 7-3 lead. That lead however was quashed when Kilmessan who were 10-6 down at this point played some solid points and won 5 in a row to go into the interval 11-10 up. Break over and breathers taken Kerry and Megan won 5 of the next 7 points to lead 15-13. The Cavaliers' ability to win the 'mini games' in the set proved crucial and Carlow Cavaliers took the first set 21-18. The beginning of second set saw Kilmessan try to force the issue a little too much and with nerves playing a big part they found themselves 6-1 down. From a Cavaliers point of view it was textbook stuff. Kerry and Megan played with a freedom that a one set cushion allows and won the opening exchanges 6-1 and 5-3 meaning the Cavs were 11-4 up at the interval and looking odds on to make it 2-1 overall in the match. At the restart Kerry and Megan knew 10 points would secure the match and set about chipping away at the target. Everytime Kilmessan won a point the Cavs won one back and played simple controlled badminton which allowed them to win 10 of the last 19 points and secure the 'W' for their team. 2-1 Cavaliers heading into the second Mens Doubles.
Up next for the Cavaliers came double trouble in the shape of twins David and Kevin Downey. The boys were taking on two vastly experienced players in Paul Ennis and Seamus Halpin. Both pairs traded points early on in the first set and at 5-3 up David's "fresh air" shot somehow managed to break the frame of his racket in very mysterious fashion. The broken racket in someways mirrored the concentration of the twins and Paul and Seamus stole into an 11-10 lead at the interval. At 14 all the pairs traded nervous points and nerves were very much to the fore when the Kilmessan pair took a 19-16 lead off 3 mistakes in 4 points from the Downeys. The twins never recovered from those unforced errors and lost the first set 21-16.
The second set started in much the same style as the first as the teams traded blows. After 21 nervous points of set 2 the score read 11-10 in favor of Kilmessan. Kilmessan took advantage of some indecisive play from the Cavaliers and took a 18-15 lead. However some very clever use of the flick/drive serve from Kevin Downey saw the twins steal a march and pop into a 20-18 lead. On the second time of asking they converted set point to level the match at 1 set apiece.
The final set saw the twins play with a greater sense of freedom as the nerves shifted from one side of the net to the other. The luck too seemed to shift as Kilmessan tried to force points the Cavaliers were on the right side of a 'net cord' to take a 7-5 lead in the third. Tails up the twins took 4 of the next 6 points to lead 11-7 at the change of ends. On resumption the Cavs controlled the net and extended their lead to 15-9. This 6 point lead was to prove crucial as in the closing stages of the games the nerves seemed to pass from Kilmessan again to the young Cavaliers and Kilmessan clawed back the deficit to trail 17-19. The young Cavs converted their first match point to give their team a lead on 3-1 overall heading into the mixed doubles on a scoreline of 16-21 21-18 21-17.
The first match in the mixed doubles line up saw Brian O'Mahony and Laura Hennessy pair up to play Brian Colgan and Lauren Au. This was the first time that Brian and Laura teamed up to play competitively and if you were present to see them you would assume they have played together for years. Laura's control of the front court coupled with Brian's dominance of the mid/rear court saw the Cavaliers' pair race to a 4-0 lead. Colgan and Au battled back to trail 6-8 but it was the Cavs who won the 'mini matches' and took a lead of 11-7 into the interval with some excellent patient attacking badminton. Colgan and Au did managed to stay with the Cavaliers after the break trading points and closing the gap 3 points at 12-15. However a combination of solid defensive play from O'Mahony coupled with some very instinctive counter attacking from Laura saw the Cavs tighten their grip on the game and take the first set 21-14.
The second set, through some clever pace control saw the Cavaliers race into a 4-1 lead. Kilmessan rallied and pulled it back to 4-4. Both teams split the next 8 points and at 8-8 the Cavs made a move with Hennessy winning 3 of the next 4 net exchanges to take an 11-9 lead into the break. The 2 point lead was soon doubled and Kilmessan were having to work double time to break down their opponents. 14 was as good as it got in the second set as the Cavs took the match 21-14 21-14 to storm into a 4-1 overall lead in the Final. Kilmessan had now to win
all remaining games and rely on sets to prevent the Cavs from lifting their first ever SWLBL Title.
In the second game of mixed doubles John Amond and Orla Flynn paired up the play Cormac Meegan and Ashleigh Coyne. The game started with both pairs sharing the opening 10 points. However Kilmessan were the one's to make the first move and won 6 of the next 7 points to lead at the mid game interval 11-6. Both pairs exchanged points on the restart and Kilmessan held a 12-7 lead. A serving masterclass from Orla Flynn saw the Cavaliers reel off 10 points in a row and lead 16-12. Kilmessan won only 3 of the next 8 points and the writing was very much on the wall as the Cavs moved one set away from winning the final.
Again much like set number one the pairs could't be split after the opening 10 points. This time however it was the Cavs who seized the initiative and moved into an 11-7 lead at the break. It was very much a case of the pupil becoming the master with Brian O'Mahony taking on the role of coach as John played and it was his reassurance at the interval and determination not to see the same mistakes Kilmessan made repeted that proved vital. The Cavaliers stretched their lead to 18-10 winning 7 of the next 10 points to establish an unassailable lead. Amond and Flynn both missed a chance each to put the game to bed but on the third time of asking they completed the task winning in straight sets 21-15 21-13 .
The Carlow Cavaliers were victorious creating history bywinning their first ever South West Leinster Badminton League Title with a comprehensive 5-1 victory over Kilmessan in the Grade 1 decider.