Sunday 22 April 2018

Mists of time cloud Irish tales of Wimbledon glory

Sean Diffley

As we watched that timeless tennis match from Wimbledon between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, we reasoned that we would be well into our second bottle before matters were resolved. We were wrong there, too -- as the man behind the counter at the off-licence concurred.

Once upon a time there were timeless encounters in Test cricket. They remind me of a man I used to know, Jack Gage, who was a radio commentator in South Africa. They broadcast the last timeless Test that went on for days -- with none of this modern nonsense of confining the meetings to five days. The last of these epics was between South Africa and England.

Jack, before those endless days, was a student at Queen's University in Belfast and played four times as a winger for the Irish rugby team.

He scored Ireland's first try in an international at Murrayfield, a year after the the ground opened in 1925.

He admitted that he got the ball just a yard or two from the Scottish line, but, he told us: "As the years pass and I relate my story the distance I 'ran' increases with the passing of the years."

What does not require any embellishing is that it's almost a century since there was an Irish success at Wimbledon. Irish tennis over an extended period -- 'timeless' shall we dub it? -- has hardly ever qualified to secure entry of a player to the All England club. We have to go back to 1893 to register a first championship triumph, when Joshua Pim was the winner and he repeated the success the following year.

The ladies' winner that first year was Lottie Dod and the next year it was the exquisitely named Blanche Bingley-Hillyard.

Pim and another Irishman, Frank Stoker, won the Wimbledon doubles in 1890 and again they shared victory in 1893.

And those in county Monaghan, who rejoice in the accomplishments of their local hero Tommy Bowe -- the top rugby player in the northern hemisphere -- might throw a bouquet or two in the direction of James Cecil Parke, a native of Clones and one of the greatest sporting all-rounders produced in this green and sometimes misty island.

He was with Trinity and later with Monkstown and was an accomplished centre who played 26 times for Ireland, captained the side, was an dependable place-kicker and would have played more international football, but for a feud with the selectors.

And when not playing rugby, he meandered around as a scratch golfer and a notable sprinter, winning an Irish title or two.

But he allied all that to a remarkable tennis career. He won the Irish singles in 1910 and 1913; was Australian singles champion in 1912 and in 1914 was a winner of the mixed doubles at Wimbledon.

I don't know who his partner was, but I'd hazard a pretty confident guess it wasn't Ms Blanche Bingley-Hillyard.

Then at the Olympic Games in London in 1908 Parke, in partnership with Josiah Ritchie, won the silver medal when they finished second in the tennis doubles.

He also had several successes in the Davis Cup, when the side was known as the British Isles, and beat the Americans on five occasions during Parke's association. Oh, those timeless days.

Irish Independent

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