Team Ireland has been steadily improving their national beach squad; 2017 was the highlight of several years training to make our mark internationally. Carey and Gormally, coached by Alex Graves, started off well in Ireland’s first international competition of 2017 in Portobello, Edinburgh. They caused an initial upset in the pools taking an early set off favourites, Beattie and Coutts from Scotland. They later went on to finish third in an epic playoff against Luxemburg. One of the other Irish team Halpin and Roantree also had a great performance, winning the plate.
The season improved from there – with Portrush being the venue for the first International beach competition to take place in Ireland. Hosted by Northern Ireland Volleyball Association, it attracted teams from across Europe. Veteran player Mel Coutts commented that it was one of the nicest beaches she had played on.
The men’s Irish squad got their first taste of the 2017 International tour in Portrush, with three teams entering from the Republic coached by Andrew Goti and five from Northern Ireland. Stolarek and Gibbons were Ireland’s top ranked team, narrowly beating Oshoke and O’Regan to make it into the quarter final playoffs where they were beaten by Cyprus, to finish fifth. The top Northern Irish men’s team, Scott and Stewart, fresh off the indoor international tour, also finished fifth, losing to San Marino.
O’Flanagan also put in a good performance playing his first competition with long standing international player Whitty. They finished ninth, losing to Hunter and Workman from Northern Ireland.
On the women’s side, there were four teams from the Republic coached by Alex Graves and seven from Northern Ireland. Gormally and Sabogal finished top of the Irish teams. They fought off another rising Irish team, Allen and Molloy to take third place on the podium. Fitzgerald and Lynch, who were representing Ireland for the first time in an international beach competition, put in a good performance, also finishing a respectable ninth. Scott and Rygielska were Northern Ireland’s top women’s team, finishing fifth.
After Portrush, the men’s and women’s squads travelled to Vaduz, Liechtenstein with coach Jorge Rodríguez Pérez to play in the Small Nations European final. This time the Irish women took two places on the podium. Gormally and Sabogal defeated Hailpin and Roantree in an all Ireland final, to win the competition. Hosts Liechtenstein came third.
The Irish men also put up a great performance with Gibbons and MacArdle beating fellow countrymen Stewart and Parks. Gibbons and Mac Ardle went on to be the highest ranking Irish pairing, finishing fifth, after an unfortunate loss to Cyprus.
Beach Volleyball Ireland also had great success running their national tour, seeing tougher and more competition at every event. They hosted some of the largest competitions, with national tours regularly having over a hundred players taking part. BVI also travelled to Ballybunion and Bettystown, two new venues to bring beach volleyball to the wider country. Cross border collaboration was at an all time high, with the tour seeing a record number of teams entering from Northern Ireland. Stories were picked up in newspapers and radio stations around the country, as beach mania told hold of the country. There was also talk of hosting more International competitions! Home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and with a fast growing interest in the sport, Ireland promises to be a venue to watch out for.