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11 Aug 2022

Ireland dream comes true for Derry table tennis star Sean

Sean McAnaney will represent Ireland in the Home Nations Table Tennis Championships

Ireland dream comes true for Derry table tennis star Sean

A picture from Sean’s early days training in China, being presented with a signed China National team shirt from China’s director of coaching, Mr Chen.

Sean McAnaney will live a lifelong goal this September when he represents Ireland in the Home Nations Table Tennis Championships on the Isle of Man.

Having put decades into the sport, Sean’s passion for table tennis has taken him around the world, where he has gained a name for himself as one of the best players and coaches around, as well as a tremendous advocate for the sport itself.

Recently, Sean achieved a long-time goal when he won the Irish National Masters Championships, a prestigious title which also brought selection for his country for the forthcoming Home Nations tournament in September. The National team selection was always his goal, so winning the National Masters title was essential.

“It is massive because having a national title under your belt, for this neck of the woods anyway, is huge,” he said. “I have been playing table tennis for a long time and I would be sort of renowned within the city, but there would never have been anyone from this neck of the woods who would have held a national title in table tennis. It would always have gone to the major cities like Belfast or Dublin.

“They pick the Irish team for the home nations after the last tournament of the season which was the nationals so I knew I would have to do well going into it to give myself a chance.

“In the quarterfinals I had the previous year’s winner and I was able to get through that. Them in the semi-finals, I had a guy called Phil Shaw from Cork who is ranked number one at the minute, and I was able to get through that. Then, I met a guy called Terry Dolan from Galway in the final and I got through that comfortably three sets to nil, and on the back of that I was notified then by the Irish Board to say that I was on the Irish team for the Home Nations.”

While table tennis would not be high-profile locally, Sean has spent a lot of time in China over the years perfecting his passion, which has made him a better player and coach.

Sean McAnaney with the National Masters Championship trophy.

“I would have travelled to China a lot for coaching and training so I would have a long connection there over the years, which has helped me immensely,” he admits. “I would have been the first Irish player to go to China for training, which was over 25 years ago, and since then I have set up a School of Excellence in China for table tennis development for Irish based players. I would take top junior players out to Chin before Covid, and that would have stood me on good stead. It has taken me a long while but I would say I’m playing the best I’ve ever played at the minute.”

Lifelong

Table tennis has been a lifelong love for Sean and he is hoping to encourage the growth of the sport in the city once again.
“I’m very keen to get the game developed again within the Northwest,” he continued. “Even at a social activity level, I’m very keen to pass on and try and get young people involved and give those who maybe played in the past the chance to get socially active and involved in it again.

“There’s a group of people who play at Foyle Arena once a week. At the minute in Derry there’s probably around 20 enthusiasts at the minute. But when I meet people out and about, they are always asking me is there any table tennis anywhere because years ago it would have been renowned throughout the boys’ clubs, but now the likes of badminton, squash and table tennis have taken a back seat in recent years.

"But there are facilities available in the Foyle Arena and Templemore Sports Complex, and they do have tables, so I’m keen to get the word out there because maybe people don’t realise that there are facilities for it.”

Sean has come a long, long way since playing in local leagues with Longtower and he is now preparing to represent his country on the biggest stage.

“September will be a big one for me because I’m part of the Irish squad and that’s just a team of three so I’m very fortunate to get that under my belt,” he concluded. “I couldn’t have pictured finishing the season in a better way, getting a national title and getting the Irish selection just capped it off for me.”

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