Game 3: Andorra 1, Luxembourg 3
25-14, 13-25, 18-25, 26-28
Both teams came into today’s encounter after mixed results in yesterday’s opening games. Andorra buoyed by a 3 nil win over Ireland and Luxembourg re-energised after a gruelling five set defeat to Northern Ireland.
That form showed in the early stages with Andorra taking an early 12-6 lead through the explosive hitting from Eric Forne who was supplied well by setter Chaster Andreu, the double act combing smartly. In fairness, Andorra cruised the first set playing with style. Marc Garcia with a massive monster block at the net defying Luxembourg’s talisman Christian Galoppo, and Andorra took the first 25-14.
Galoppo, as he did in his team’s first game rallied his troops and soon the Grand Duchy were all square. In fact, the second set was a complete reverse of the first with Matilde De Luz, the giant middle dominating centre court. They were also getting the rub of the green when a misplaced block from Galoppo rebounded fortuitously off the unaware de Luz falling just in, giving the team in red a nine point lead which was only extended running out 25-13.
The game settled somewhat in the third with both defences cancelling each other out. Vincenzo Nadilini and Jan Manuel Garcia the two liberos in fine form. Nadilini’s Luxembourg edged ahead with Nicolas T’Joen sharp and Nicolas Brignardello conducting a stream of attacks that stretched the Andorran middles across the net. Luxembourg now finding their flow to move 2-1 up 25-18.
With the overall championships table looking tight Luxembourg were pressing hard for a 3:1 and full points that move them ahead of their opponents in the standings. William LeDrezen firing hard down the middle to open up an early advantage. The Andorrans battled hard though, easing back into the game with the tournaments stand out setter Andreu back on form after a rest in the second.
The game was evenly poised at 12 each when Andreu found Forne for a boom and the principality had a slender lead. But with both teams so evenly matched this was always going to the wire and it was no surprise when Luxembourg saved two set points and Andorra a match point with a special hit from captain Nil Panades.
But it was Luxembourg who snook home taking the fourth and final set 28-26 to join Andorra at the top of the table on four points each.
MVP: David Felber LUX
Game 4: Ireland 3, N. Ireland 2
25-19, 17-25, 25-23, 29-31, 15-11.
This game was special. A first ever win for Ireland at Junior International competition level and what a way to do it, overcoming their friends and rivals from the North in a dramatic five-set thriller that had spectators in raptures.
The guests came into this game as heavy favourites and buoyed after a brilliant five-set win over Luxembourg on day 1. The hosts came into the game bottom of the standings and apprehensive after a 3-set defeat to Northern Ireland one month ago in this same venue.
But it was the underdogs who started better with Sam Harman linking brilliantly with Cian Humphreys on the wing to shell shock the North and soon Ireland were 9-6 up. The star of the first set though was undoubtedly Noah Leamy whose blistering serves opened up a 9point lead. Paddy Daly was doing his best to drag his team back into but Ireland held on 25-19.
Northern Ireland captain Myles Reilly rallied his troops and Zak Kincaid was stepping up to the plate as the men in red kept Ireland at arm’s length throughout the set. Isaak Finch was serving with pace and accuracy targeting Ennis man Humphreys, and the tactic worked as Northern Ireland ran out 25-17 winners.
Northern Ireland were well into their stride by now, leading 15-11 with Niclas Skansen excelling. But the resilient and defiant Irish team kept their cool with coolness personified Sonny Yamada hitting well, Ireland fought back and then all of a sudden had a set point and when Kincaid’s serve went long the raucous crowd were delirious and sensing an upset.
Ireland started the fourth in great form with Loughrea libero positional sense ensuring Harman had clean ball and options to hit Humphreys or Yamada. The young middles Ben O’Sullivan and Lochlan Donnelly were raising their game to new levels and going toe to toe with the impressive Skansen.
But it was the Ennis man Humphreys who was leading the charge mixing up hard attacks and cute tips to keep Mark Christie guessing in back court. Ireland were flying with Humphreys on fire and when Jack McMurray serve hit the net Ireland had three match points.
The crowd were on the feet and courtside now tempting fate when Skansen saved the first point. Northern Ireland kept their nerve phenomenally with Edgar serving aggressively targeting the back line it was 24 a piece. Kilkenny man Donnelly monster blocked and Ireland had a fourth match point which was saved with Skansen going cross court. Daly aced to give Northern Ireland a set point and looked to have caught the line again but 1st referee Bob Bauer called a replay ball the margins were so tight.
Reilly was looking for Skansen but setter Harman blocked to give Ireland another match point, again saved by Skansen. Christie saved a ripper from Humphreys but a net touch gave Ireland a fifth chance to win it before McMurray went down the line with perfection and then a tip allowed Reilly to serve for the set. Ireland touched the block and we were going to a fifth.
At this stage you’d forgive the Irish time for thinking their chance had passed, especially with Northern Ireland’s leaders at the fore.
In the fifth, the teams exchanged points before MVP Humphreys took over and drove Ireland into a 9-2 lead. But Northern are nothing if not resilient and came back to a 2 point game. Sam Harman served a sixth match point which Christie put out and the Irish team were dancing with joy for a memorable victory that will live long in the memory.
MVP: Cian Humphreys IRL