COUNTY SENIOR OPEN SINGLES REPORT by AOB
Any lingering doubts about the ability of Galen Riordan, Ballyhogue to successfully defend his county 40×20 senior open singles title won for the first time last year, were emphatically dispelled at a packed St. Josephs Community Centre on Wednesday night last, when he produced a magnificent all round performance to see off the huge challenge posed by Gavin Buggy, St. Josephs, on the way to taking the title in straight sets 21-15, 21-20.
For sheer quality and intensity this will be remembered as one of the very best 40×20 senior finals played in Wexford, as one of the top young players in the country went toe to toe with one of the best and most experienced veterans in the game. It concluded after a riveting 88 minutes when Buggy missed a ‘sitter’ inside the shortline, after a rare error by Riordan had provided him with a straight forward setup off the back wall. He had shown tremendous bravery in battling back from 8-16, 14-19 and 16-20 behind to level at 20-20, but that self-inflicted wound finally ended his title challenge. You’d have put your house on Buggy to nail that chance but sometimes on these huge moments, pressure is not ‘just for tyres’! To Riordan’s credit it was one of the few mistakes he made throughout an enthralling match and he needed to be that clinical and precise against an opponent whose all round performance belied his 45 years.
Both players were quickly into their stride at the beginning of the match and scores were level on several occasions before a timeout when 7-10 down, proved beneficial to Riordan. On his return he quickly tagged on four points to go 11-10 in front and when he increased that to 16-12 he looked in a strong position to win the opener. Buggy rallied again however to get back to 15-16 before Riordan really applied the afterburners to secure the next five points and a 21-15 first game win. During this period the champion was virtually unplayable and try as he might Buggy was unable to stem the tide.
Scores were tied at 5-5 and 8-8 in the second before Buggy, having scored three points in succession to draw level, was soon pounding the floor in exasperation as Riordan quickly restored his advantage to lead 11-8. Suddenly the first real chinks in the Wexford town man’s challenge were being exposed by a ruthless younger player and when the champion reeled off another five scores to increase his lead to 16-8, it looked like Riordan was going to have an easier than expected victory. Then came the finish with the vastly more experienced Buggy clawing his way back score by score, only to miss at a critical moment.
The match was particularly notable for the number of ‘winners’ retrieved by both players and this led to long energy sapping rallies as each took the best the other had to offer. Riordan was majestic for most of this match and when he occasionally dipped below that level it was only due to the quality of the challenge he faced and the constant and relentless pressure applied by Buggy. In a mentally and physically draining encounter it was Riordan’s ability to get flat roll-outs under pressure that proved the crucial difference as neither took a backward step and each adopted an offensive strategy.
Notwithstanding that late miss and the speculation as to who would have been the stronger if it had gone to a third game, few would deny that Riordan deserved his victory. He is a much better player now than when he won for the first time in 2018 and at 23 years of age he has plenty of scope for further improvement. His mental strength was very evident throughout a very intense match and in truth he always looked the more likely winner.
Gavin Buggy made a massive contribution to a memorable final and his performance was as good as anything he has produced in recent years. Against anyone other than Riordan it would have seen him crowned the winner yet again, but the Ballyhogue star is operating at a different level nowadays and is a worthy Wexford senior singles champion for the second time.