Laois youngsters lead the way once more as they claim gold in Mayo

They aren’t paid to endorse running shoes. Their names aren’t household names, when they travel to compete they spend money, earned by their parents at jobs unrelated to the sport.

They aren’t paid to endorse running shoes. Their names aren’t household names, when they travel to compete they spend money, earned by their parents at jobs unrelated to the sport.

Yet, in spite of that, a mighty contingent of young table tennis players from all over Ireland joined by Sports Minister Michael Ring congregated in Co Mayo recently at The Breaffy Sports Arena for round three of a five round series of the national championship - The Connaught Junior Open. This two day tournament would see many of Ireland’s best young talent on show.

As on many previous occasions Kate Whelan and Dylan Grace continued to put Mountrath and the midlands on the map with their magical and winning performances in the U-15 Girls and Boys categories. As both sat back to enjoy their success on the day you could tell that their thoughts were firmly on the next events in Cork and Dublin.

Already Whelan is national champion with only three of the five rounds played and has not dropped a set along the way. Following an exciting semi-final with clubmate Jessie Hayes she easily dispatched Marie Williams in the final 3-0.

Whelan is surely in contension for future Olympics if the system and the sports council of Ireland can step up to the plate and recognoise and support real talent with high performance training, opportunities and financial support. Cost on the international circuit is very expensive and impossible without major funding.

However for the time being, the former two times U-12 National champion, International primary school star and now U-15 national champion from Ballyroan Kate Whelan will continue to display her amazing and inspiring talent, with much more yet to be unlocked. As she moves up through the age ranks, she is chasing her dreams of hopefully joining the greats of Irish table tennis, such as Colm Slevin, and maybe go one better by making an Olympic games her golden moment.

Dylan Grace has a a first, second and third so far in national events this season and is sure to be up there along with Ulster wunderkid Owen Cathcart at the seasons end. In Castlebar he was in cruise control from the off and only came under real pressure in the semi-final where he came up against a powerful, fast and difficult opponent in West Cork’s James Kelly.

On overcoming this challenge he faced an unusual opponent in Ulster’s James McGrath who had caused endless problems with backspin chop and occasional powerful attack for many opponents all through the event. In the final Grace combined blistering attack in suitable doses, clever use of the table along with good mental strenth to record a 3-0 result.

There are times when a player needs to succeed as bad as they need to breath to be successful and Grace may need that against Owen Cathcart but he is well and truly a match for the rest of his challengers for the remaining rounds.

Tiegan O’Connor continues to play a steady and consistent game at U-13 and took fifth place. With more dominance, attack and increased speed in her game she can surley move up another level.

Sarah O’Connor displayed her finest competition to date by making the quarter finals at U-15. Richard Thompson, who had an outstanding U-13 event in Lisburn some weeks ago, came up against, and lost out to, Jake Adler who was in blazing form considering it was only his second national event. Adler is fast making a name for himself in Munster and nationally went on to finish sixth, up ten places from Lisburn where he was 16th. He plays with Cloughjordan table tennis club in Tipperary where Jimmy Hayes is also lead coach.

Amylou Hayes was progressing well before being knocked out by eventual winner Chloe O’Halloran. Ross Handcock continues to be consistent. Paddy Vaughan is a para player who is number one in the country, he also enjoys the real challenge of the national events where he can put the best of opponents through a difficult game, and only the best can beat him at the table. The next national event is January 17/18 in Cork City, replacing INEC Killarney.

Mountrath Table Tennis Club have a limited amount of spaces for young players from 7-9 years old who would like to take up the sport. Further details 086 8684693.