This was the third in an ongoing series of friendly matches between the junior players of Ireland and Sussex. While the matches are undoubtedly competitive, their philosophy is to ensure that the players benefit from the experience as much as possible, so every effort is made to ensure that they are reasonably matched in strength and blatant mismatches are avoided. Thus the two sides can draw on broadly the same population, and the teams are further divided into age groups and pairing groups depending on numbers available.
The first match was held in the Belvedere Hotel in the centre of Dublin in April 2000 and resulted in a 18½-15½ win for the Irish team. The second leg in a seafront hotel in Brighton in April 2002 was much more ambitious with 37 players on each side spread over five sections with the home team scoring 3½-1½ in sections and the games going amazingly 120½ to each team, because of the higher numbers of players and rounds in the youngest under 10 section.
This years match was held in the Great Southern Hotel at Shannon Airport on the weekend of 26-27 February 2005 with an impressive 35 players on each team. Ireland won the under 14/16 section by 21½-10½ and the under 12 section by 30-14 but ironically lost the under 10 section (where they had been so strong in 2002) by 49½-20½ with the result that the overall game score went to Sussex by 74-72. In keeping with the spirit of the competition, Ireland were awarded the perpetual shield and Sussex took home the Sir Patrick Moore Cup, which has been donated by the great astronomer (and once the strongest player in Sussex) to promote junior chess matches. Indeed Sir Patrick had presented the prizes at the 2002 event, and while it was not possible to find a comparable Irish astronomer to match the venerable presenter of The Sky at Night the Irish Chess Union were honoured when Minister of State for Science and Education Sile de Valera attended as guest of honour at the prizegiving ceremony.
The Great Southern Hotel proved to be an admirable venue, and the visiting parents were able to enjoy the local attractions such as the Burren and Bunratty Castle. Some even managed a tour of the airport control tower.
There were some interesting lessons to be learned by both sides from the weekend. Sussex had lost some of their older players to a 4NCL weekend but compensated by coopting some youngsters from neighbouring Kent. Others had moved to non-chess-playing schools and had not played for months. But they regarded their under 8 and under 9 teams as a match for any of the English counties. In contrast Irelands strong under 10 team of 2002 have matured into strong under 14s but have not been replaced by a new generation. Maybe by the time of the next match the cycle will have turned again.