Just like Lord of the Rings, this eagerly awaited report may have been a long time in the coming but comes in monstrous size, split into a trilogy and stays true to the book. Are you sitting comfortably…then we’ll begin.
Part 1: The Fellowship of 4-Wall
From the 11th-21st October the biggest wallball event in history took place in Dublin, Ireland. The World Championships is a triennial affair but the 2012 Championships not only had the most wallball courts ever constructed under one roof but also the most players coming together from all four corners of the world to compete. Over 2000 in all and 15 of them, stirring individuals from these green isles across the Irish Sea.
The championships were divided into two: a 4-wall event and the 1-wall event. Each event was graded from ‘C’ through to ‘Open’. Since we can’t play regulation 4-wall in the UK yet only a few adventurous players flew out early to try their hand at the fantastic game. Richard Dyke, Daniel Grant, Gareth Price, Daniel Tristao and Luke Thomson all waged war in the C-singles and C-doubles. 4-wall is played on a racquetball court – similar to squash but a bit narrower, a bit longer, no tin and, oh yes, you can hit it off the roof. It’s as close to pinball as wallball gets and it’s tremendous fun! The ball is the ‘small ball’ – a squash sized dull, heavy rubber ball that needs to be rolled out of the hand. Simply smacking it may cause bruises at own risk.
Price & Grant had both played 4-wall three years ago at the Portland World Championships but neither had played singles. The other three were new to the game and sadly due to an incredibly packed schedule (see numbers of players above) there was virtually no time for practice. The C grade had a whopping first round of 256 – the biggest draw we’d ever seen – twice as big as Wimbledon, which meant you had to win 9 rounds to claim the title! Luckily this didn’t matter to Dan Tristao and Richard Dyke who both exited hastily in the first round. Dkye was drawn against the young whizz-kid, Madden, who gave the poor Brit a baptism of fire. Tristao was hoping to adapt to the game and indeed he did as the week progressed, but sadly you learn by making mistakes and so it was that only three Brits remained after astonishing wins over McLaughlin of Canada (Price), the seasoned Brannigan of Ireland (Grant) and the veteran powerhouse Nakamura of Japan (Thomson).
The second round saw two more exits as Thomson lost in a very tight match to Sean Digney, the 9th seed – a man who went on to the quarter finals. Luke adapted to the game magnificently and really impressed with his coordination and reading of the bounce. Grant played one of the most Irish of people – an individual called Conor O’Connor. Conor (O’Connor) soundly beat our GB Captain and perhaps to confirm that even the ‘C’ grade is not for the faint of heart Conor later remarked how between him and his two brothers he had 43 All Ireland 4-Wall titles and 2 World Titles! Dan did not feel so bad about losing after he heard that.
However it is our 4-Wall superstar to whom we’ll now turn our attention. Gareth Price has long been a fan of the game. Ever since he first scooped a ball that had ricocheted off the roof and around the back wall into the front nick the smile of sheer unadulterated child-like joy has been impossible to wipe from his cheeks. The man loves 4-wall. And rightly so – he is undeniably the greatest player the UK has ever produced.
Not content with beating the mighty Dan McLaughin in straight sets (in front of his wife), he then went on to play a friendly but dangerous bloke called Gregan. Price prepared for the match as is customary for 4-wall, with a full Irish Breakfast. Fuelled by white pudding he went on to destroy the Irishman comfortably. In the 3rd round (round of 64 – almost a normal tournament size by this point) he came up against Ciaran McCallan, the no. 23 seed, who sadly proved too strong for Gareth’s might. But there’s no shame in losing to a man who’s played for over 10 years when you’ve only played 2 matches.
But that wasn’t the end of the 4-wall; doubles was next up. Grant was the first of our UK players to forge ties across the ocean as he paired up with Bryan Lucero of the USA (don’t forget, the majority of tournaments were ‘individual’ – only the Federation Cup was for Team GB). Bryan, a more seasoned player with far better hair than Grant took the lead. Although the pair performed admirably; indeed they got better as the match went on, they ended up losing in two sets to one of the World Famous Willoughby Brothers (a family band consisting only 3 generations of wallball players!). No surprise really, their opponents were the no.3 seeds!
Marianne Catmull had now arrived and was unexpectantly placed in the women’s C doubles too. Taking full advantage of the opportunity, she played with Shirley Chen from the USA (her 1-wall partner and USA link no.2). Talk about being thrown in the deep end, Marianne had never played 4-wall in her life but gave it her best shot and with Shirley covering shots at the back and Marianne volleying, the girls’ ‘Diamond Formation’ almost worked. Almost.
Frustratingly the only two fully British pairs – Thomson & Dyke and Price & Tristao had, astonishingly, in a tournament featuring 128 pairs, been draw smack up against each other in the round 1. It was nip and tuck for a while but very soon the cool-headed Price went on to dominate the match by using his experience to move Richard and Luke about the court and his power to confuse his opponents with defensive roof shots. Perhaps this was a blessing in disguise for Luke ‘Tekkers’ Thomson, who bruised his hand badly in the match. He’d need that hand later for the 1-wall.
Price and Tristao then went on to the second round where they faced an extremely good pair: Buckley & Whelan, the no.15 seeds. The match was unbearably close and nip & tuck all the way. Price continued his excellent form and now it was Tristao who was beginning to take control of the ropes too. He figured that since his 4-wall technique was up to scratch yet, he might as well ‘play Rugby Fives’. Boasting the ball at head height around the walls began to confuse the opposition and in the 3rd game tie-break the British skill began to prove decisive and, to the raucous cheering of a loud blue crowd in a sea of green, they came through and won the most impressive 4-wall match of their careers. Sadly they could not repeat their heroics in the last 16 against Fawley & Kennedy but oh my, they came oh so close! Pushing the Irishmen to the limits they again went to a 3rd game tie-breaker and were mere points away from victory when a run of good kills from the Irish brought their campaign to an end. However, the Brits hold their heads high with some truly exceptional results against seasoned 4-wall players. That night we shared a few drinks with our friends from around the world and, surreally, with Shrek, Captain America, Superman and Phil Taylor as the Darts World Grand Prix overlapped for a couple of days with the wallball. Of note was the fact that the great 4-wall player, Paul Brady, won his 4th consecutive World Title, confirming him as the greatest player the world has ever seen.
To be continued….
(click on the links below…)
Click HERE for the Gallery