Another boost for Givan family fortunes as Ashley goes into bat

IT was never a question of if Ashley Givan would take up a table tennis bat; it was merely a matter of when.

“My mother and uncle played and I played,” her father Mark recalled this week, “so I started Ash playing when she was around seven.”

And from those first moments he could see his daughter was a natural.

“Her focus was there from the start, she just wanted to win.”

Over the past seven years, that mix of talent and attitude has sent her speeding through the underage age ranks, and with victory over Rebecca Kenny on Sunday, into the record books as the youngest national senior women’s champion in the history of the sport in Ireland.

Her father isn’t surprised by her rate of progress.

He recalled: “Last year when she was 13 she was double national champion at U14 and U17 and the year before that she was the U12 and U14 champion. And now she is the youngest national champion. It’s amazing.”

But the journey has not been without sacrifices for the Clogher Table Tennis Club starlet who is perfecting her art under the tutelage of national women’s coach Arthur Brett.

“She is putting in a lot of training,” her father admitted.

“She spends two nights a week working on her physical fitness with a trainer and then two nights on table tennis. Most weekends she is away competing.”

The odometer on her father’s car will attest to that, recording over 60,000 miles in the past two years.

Each training session in Belfast requires a two hour round trip from their home while the weekend competitions can take the family anywhere in the country and trips on the ferry across the Irish Sea are not uncommon.

“This weekend makes it all worthwhile. I was there watching and I was over the moon when she won.

“I know all that she has put in to get to this stage,” her father smiled.

Remarkable as her achievement is, it has barely registered on the media’s radar, local or national, to the annoyance of some within the sport.

“It is a bit of a disappointment,” her father agreed. “We would all like to see more table tennis coverage.

“It is a wonderful sport that you can play from the age of six until your eighties. Look at rugby, soccer or any of those and you have to retire from competitive action when you are in your mid-30s.

“There was a table tennis competition recently for people in their 80s!”

However there is a table tennis world outside Ireland, a very lucrative one where the game’s top players can make comfortable livings on the pro circuits.

Last year she experienced the Commonwealth Youth Games in India and has since made many new friends who are paid to play.

“It is big on the continent,” her father continued. “She has a lot friends playing in leagues in France and Germany and they are making careers out of it.”

But that is all in the future. For now, Ashley returns to her studies at Royal School, Dungannon and counts down to her next weekend away in Scotland.

And what has she made of it all?

“This was my biggest win. I actually lost to the girl I beat in the final in the U21 semi-final so that was nice. It was really good. It was nice for all the people at home and for my dad. He was very proud.”

And while Ashley took the first steps in creating her table tennis dynasty at DCU, Glasnevin over the weekend, John Murphy was continuing by claiming his third national senior title in four years on Sunday.

Remember the names.

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