Darren Doherty went into the 15 & Under Irish Nationals tournament seeded number one by Croke Park and therefore through to the last 16 and the Finals weekend in Kingscourt without having to play preliminary matches. When the fixtures list was finalised it was pretty much as expected with all the top players in the country plus a couple of newcomers appearing on the list.
Doherty was seeded 1 with Nash (Clare) 2, Crehan (Clare) 3 and McCrory (Tyrone) 4. Once play started on Saturday morning however, it became clear that this category was not going to run according to predictions, with the 2, 3, and 4 seeds knocked out of the competition by Saturday night. Of the seeded players, Doherty was the only one to progress to the Semis on Sunday. Padraig Quish (Limerick) came through to the Semi final on Darren’s side of the draw with the other semi final featuring Paul Clarke (Tyrone) and Martin Mullins (Carlow). Doherty had a tough semi-final against Quish but managed to dispatch him in two straight games on a scorline of 21 -14 and 21 – 20. Doherty did well to prevent the match going to a tie-breaker when he came back from 20-14 down in the second game to take it 21-20.
The other semi final was a tough contest which went to a tie-breaker and saw Martin Mullins defeating Paul Clarke in a hard fought tie breaker 11-10, to book his place in the final against Doherty. It was a long wait following the semis in the morning until the finalists took to the court around 6 yesterday evening for the big final which would decide which of these players would win not only the National Title but the coveted place on the Irish team bound for San Diego for the US Nationals at Christmas. Doherty was feeling the pressure of being the favourite to win the title, while Mullins was a bit more relaxed with a ‘nothing to lose’ attitude.
Doherty won the toss to serve and it was game on. He lost serve straight away and went down 8-2 to Mullins who was absolutely on fire all throughout this tournament, showing amazing skill in killing the ball, roof shots, passing shots – he was just a fantastic all round player, and his 60 x 30 experience also stood to him. Doherty could not find his feet in this game and missed a lot of shots, but he managed to get back into serve and bring the score back to 8-8. Mullins took a time-out and followed this with an array of class shots to forge ahead once again to lead 14-8. Darren was able to pull it together and bring it to 14-12 but with Mullins on top form he was not allowing Doherty to play his usual hard-hitting game. Mullins kept Doherty out of this game and took the score to 20 – 14. It looked like this game belonged to Mullins but Doherty had other ideas. Following advice from mentors John Moen and Austin McKenna, Doherty kept his head and was able to haul the game back on track with some low power serves with a spin that Mullins found impossible to return. With the belief that it’s never over til it’s over, Doherty worked hard and managed to take the first game on a scoreline of 21-20. There followed a two minute break to recover from this hard contested game and then back in for the second. Mullins served first and lost it straight away. Doherty went into a spectacular lead of 15-4, showing the top class handball skills that we are used to seeing from him. However Mullins took advice from his mentors and got back into serve and slowed the game right down which rattled young Doherty and made him lose focus slightly. Mullins rattled off several scores, Doherty got back into serve several times but could not score a point against the determined Mullins. Mullins was on a mission to win, and he clawed this game back to a score of 20 -15. Doherty managed to score four more points but the game finished with Mullins on top, winning 21-19. A tie-break situation! During the 5 minute break before the tie-breaker both players tried to re-group and took advice from their coaches and mentors. Darren knew going into this final game that if his opponent got any kind of lead it would be all over. He was determined not to let this happen and with the focus and determination that sets him apart in these situations, he was able to keep a cool head under immense pressure.
Mullins served first in the tie, and Doherty managed to put him out straight away with a class passing shot. He proceeded to use a low power serve down both sides of the court to spectacular effect, rattling off ten points in a row to take the score to 10 – match ball – 0. Mullins got back into serve and scored two points but had no answer to Doherty’s cool control of this game, and it finished up 11-2. It was a hard-fought battle with both players leaving everything they had on the court. Doherty’s ability to stay relatively calm under pressure was definitely a deciding factor in this tough final, and he emerged a worthy winner of the 15 & Under National Title 2010.
This is Doherty’s 3rd national title this year, having won the U-16 All-Ireland 40×20 title earlier in the year, as well as the Colleges Junior All-Ireland title. Congratulations to Darren and indeed to his Coach Peter Larkin who was on hand with helpful advice all weekend in Kingscourt. Darren will now travel to San Diego as part of the Irish Junior Team to compete in the US Nationals at the end of December. We wish him and all the team the best of luck.