Many thanks to our hosts for a very successful tournament and fixture, and congratulations to 2011 Irish Champion Roland Budd!

The event

Oratory court from above The IRTA visited The Oratory School, in Oxfordshire, over the weekend of 17th–18th September. On Saturday 17th we played the 2011 Irish Closed Tournament, and on Sunday 18th there was a match between the IRTA and The Oratory Real Tennis Club.

The venue

The Oratory School was founded by Cardinal Newman in 1859 — not long after his time in Dublin, where he had been involved in the early years of what was to become UCD. Another Irish link with the school is marked by a plaque, near the real tennis court, to John Pius Boland. Boland was head boy at The Oratory, won gold medals for lawn tennis at the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens — and was later MP for South Kerry. Born in Dublin, he was at Catholic University School, on Leeson Street, just around the corner from Earlsfort Terrace, but he went on to The Oratory in 1881, and would thus have been in England by the time the real tennis court was being built in Dublin in the mid-1880s. However, he subsequently lived in Oxford and in London — might he perhaps have played real tennis?

He would not have played at school: the real tennis court at The Oratory was built in 1989, a century after Boland’s time. It has fine viewing arrangements, including glass panels on two floors in the wall above the service end, and it was the venue for the World Championship in 2006.

The opening matches

The Irish Closed tournament got underway with a series of group matches, each of a single set. Among the entrants the handicaps ranged from 31 up to 66, and games were to be played off half the handicap difference. While some of those not actually on court were distracted by the success of the Irish rugby team in its match against Australia, in New Zealand, the pick of the early games was probably that between Kevin Sammon (66, youth and agility) and Mike Bolton (58, guile and experience). At 5-all, 40-all, the set could have fallen either way, but Kevin found the dedans — not for the first time — and took the match.

Dave Keane (62), another relatively recent convert to the game whose handicap is surely on the way down, was the only player in the first group to take 4 games from the ever-consistent Mark Heffernan (42), who went undefeated and thus qualified for the semi-final. Mark Keogh (45), playing on his home court, was involved in the other 5-all game of the group, against Dave Keane. Both Keane and Keogh also defeated Sammon and Bolton, so Keane’s win against Keogh sent him through to the other semi-final.

Roland Budd (31) emerged at the top of the second group, with William Wilks (34) playing elegantly to win two out of his three matches and thus take the other semi-final place. Richard Ramjane (39), carrying a slight injury, went very close against Wilks, and 2009 champion Stuart Baxter (35) brought Budd to 5-all in an entertaining set, as well as defeating Ramjane.

The lunch

was copious, excellent, and much appreciated throughout the afternoon. It was served in the club room behind the dedans — from which, through large windows, one has a good view of the court.

The semi-finals

brought wins for the two lower handicap players: William Wilks defeated Mark Heffernan, and Roland Budd defeated Dave Keane, and so we arrived at...

The final

in which Budd defeated Wilks, to retain his title. Following a short presentation ceremony in the fine club room behind the dedans, the group dispersed, to reconvene a short time afterwards at The Highwayman’s Inn, close to the school, for

The dinner

And then on Sunday morning the IRTA group was back on court for a match against the locals.

The match on sunday

The IRTA players had clearly benefited from all their tennis on Saturday, and enjoyed success at singles and doubles against the Oratory team. Mark Keogh was first on court, and had a very close match against Andrew Woodward. Kevin Sammon improved even further on his weekend’s form, continuing to hit the dedans from unlikely positions, in his win over Michelle Bucknell. He then teamed up with Mike Bolton to form a most effective partnership, taking on Andy Bucknell and Carrie Hart. The last match of the day saw Stuart Baxter and Roland Budd combine to beat Pete Harding and the hard-hitting Christian Whittaker.

And finally

The IRTA enjoyed an excellent weekend at The Oratory in late December 2008, and it was great to be back. We are very much indebted to The Oratory School and Real Tennis Club, for allowing us to visit; to Mark Keogh, who liaised between the IRTA and The Oratory in organising the events; to the Keogh and Baxter families, who welcomed the travelling players so warmly to the area; to Andy Chinneck for all his help before, during, and after the weekend; to Andy and his colleagues for all that marking.

This was the first year in which the IRTA held its Open and Closed tournaments over separate weekends. We certainly aim to follow a similar format in 2012 — and beyond.

— Roland Budd


— Photos courtesy Mark Heffernan