THE tennis community, and particularly the members and past members of Ballinlough Tennis Club, were shocked and saddened at the untimely passing of Michael McCarthy last Sunday.
After an injury ended a promising soccer career that had led to an offer of a trial with West Ham in his youth, Michael joined Ballinlough with his partner Brid Falvey in 1987 under the tutelage of Don Crowley. It quickly became apparent that he was very talented, going from a novice with a racquet to playing in a Munster tennis winter league grade 3 final against Sunday's Well in 1990.
He became club champion for the first time in 1989 and stayed at the top for many years.
Val O’Grady, now a well-known tennis coach joined Ballinlough a month after Michael and Brid and they forged a competitive doubles pairing that played and won events in many open tournaments across Cork and Munster. His last championship singles win was a final set dramatic come-from-behind victory against Conor O’Callaghan who was at the time representing Munster and went on to represent Ireland.
Unfortunately, he succumbed to an injury and had to hang up his competition racquet but continued to participate socially and then by training to be a referee. He was then appointed to the position of club caretaker and took to the many responsibilities associated with the task and, as time went on, became far more than a regular caretaker.
His years of being in the club became an enduring source of knowledge and assistance to incoming committees. He created a role that made us the envy of many other clubs, and it is hard to convey his worth to us all.
His quiet, gentle and calming nature was a soothing balm to what could sometimes be a very fraught situation, refereeing tournaments, running internal social nights and lending a helpful hand at many other events.
His endless patience and guidance were much appreciated by those less experienced and yet he had a quick wit and wicked sense of humour. One of his classic lines was: 'The coaches can do no more for you!'. This was taken as a sincere compliment by some who felt they had mastered the game.
Michael was very involved in the junior section of the club, supervising the younger members who came every day for coaching and aiding with their homework between games. He knew some of the passages from Irish textbooks by heart.
He was well known to have a constant supply of jellies on demand which led to the birth of the ‘Fruitgum Cup’ chosen and presented by Michael to the junior who displayed the most all-round positive attitude towards others during the previous year. This became the most coveted prize for any of the juniors to receive, even more than being the best player in the club.
Michael was an avid Liverpool supporter and we knew better than to ask him ‘who won the match’ if his beloved team didn’t come through. Many hours were spent discussing tactics and players with other members after particularly fraught games. The sound of football commentators coming from his iPad was a fixture in the clubhouse when we would all be up watching Winter League tennis matches on a Sunday when Michael’s presence required as a referee.
He never complained when asked but, by the same token, rarely stayed for the speeches, preferring to go home to bring his beloved Jack Russell, Mrs Murph or The Terrorist as he fondly referred to her, for a walk. Mrs Murph was a bit of an enigmatic terrier, keen sunbather and not fond of the rain.
Michael also had a huge interest in nature, music and reading, and was a fountain of knowledge in all, being a keen electric guitar-playing band member in his early days though he kept that quiet. Which was his way, unassuming, gentle and humble.
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It is impossible to imagine life ever being the same going in those gates without seeing his face or hearing his voice as he recalls an amusing anecdote or hearing his music playing on our social nights.
Michael for many was the first person a new member would meet and he ensured each new member had the perfect introduction to the club. The number of wonderful, heartfelt messages from our members, neighbours, friends and also from many other clubs in Munster since his untimely passing bares testament to his popularity.
Michael, may your gentle soul rest in peace with your loved ones who have passed before you. The world is a lesser place by your absence. You are totally irreplaceable.