FLASHBACK: Lightbody brothers in the spotlight from an early age

There have been countless young players who have passed through the doors of Alpha Badminton Club since the junior club was established at the beginning of the Sixties, many have gone on to win club championships, many have enjoyed competing at their own level in the various club sides enjoying the sport at their own level.

Brothers Matthew and Ross Lightbody in 2009. Pic by Paul Murphy

There are also, although fewer in numbers of course, several who have taken up the sport at a very young age and have been as talented as the club’s latest young star Matthew Cheung, who was awarded the Junior Sports Personality of the Year (Male) in the Belfast Sports Awards 2020.

Two brothers, Matthew and Ross Lightbody - younger brothers of Stuart - were to make quite an impact not only on the local badminton scene, while still at primary school but also made many officials at European competitions they competed in take note.

But it would also be a massive disservice to them not to recall the two brothers for what they did achieve in their all too short badminton careers, particularly as Matthew’s was cut all too short by a serious shoulder injury which necessitated reconstruction.

There was no surprise that 2013 should have found Matthew ranked No1 in both U15 boys doubles and mixed, occupied the No2 slot in the boys singles in that age group and was just outside the top three in February 2014 in both mixed U17 and boys doubles in September 2013.

While Ross reached No3 in October in boys doubles U17 and sixth in both mixed U17 and U19 boys doubles the following year.

One thing was certain when they were on court, I recall, as your attention was never able to drift to action on an adjacent court, such was their commitment and the high-octane game which they demanded of themselves.

They commanded your attention at tournaments and had a steely determination to win and I am sure at that time they would have been playing eight days a week if it had been possible!

Despite his tender year Matthew, aged 9 and a pupil of Pond Park Primary, was certainly one of the outstanding young prospects at Alpha Badminton Club along with his brother Ross.

Even at such a young age he had every reason to be confident of fulfilling his undoubted promise after recently capturing both the singles and doubles titles in the prestigious Carlton International Youth Tournament in the Netherlands.

It was an event which boasted of some 450 entries with 15 countries being represented and annually attracting some of the cream of junior players in Europe.

Matthew had started off impressively in the singles facing the Belgian No1 Louison Dury, but he came through impressively 21-7 21-5, which gave him a quarter-final clash against the Dutch No1 Joran Kweekel.

Matthew started well, taking the opening set 21-5 in double quick time and booked his place in the final against the Dutch No2 Noah Jongen by capturing the second 21-10.

After outplaying his opponent 21-4 21-6, Matthew was to team up with Joran Kweekel in the boys doubles, knocking out a Dutch pair who were also the No2 seeds, Jorg van Beuden and Boyd Brekelmans and topped their group by winning 21-7 21-13.

This then set them up for a semi-final against the Belgian top pairing of Louison Dury/Lucas Fallais and they ran out 21-13 21-12 victors.

Next up were the top Danish pair of Emil Langemark/Karl Thor Sondegaard.

It was Matthew and Joran who raced to the opening set 21-16 and Matthew was to lift his SECOND title of the day in helping Joran to win the second 21-13.

The mixed saw Matthew team up with Laura Demmelmayer of Austria cruising through their opening match 21-7 21-7 and they had no trouble in seeing off a Dutch pair in straight sets.

Progressed into the semis where they were to meet the top Dutch pair Tamara van der Hoeven/Joran Kweekel.

They were narrowly edged out of the opening set 21-17 and in the second it was their opponents who saw out the victory 21-7.

Two years later Matthew then aged 11 and a pupil at RBAI returned from another sojourn this time in Hoensbroek, where he was to lift the Under 13 mixed doubles title with Tamara van der Hoeven from the Netherlands.

Matthew won a treble in the U13 Nationals hosted at the National Badminton Centre in Lisburn winning the singles, boys doubles with Niall Armstrong and the mixed with Rachael Woods.

The singles was an outstanding final with both Matthew and his opponent Paul Reynolds both at the top of their game before Matthew came through 19-21 21-11 23-21.

In the boys doubles Niall Armstrong and Matthew saw off the Mount Pleasant pair of Paul Reynolds and Nhat Nguyen 21-15 13-21 21-14, a most impressive performance in anyone’s view, while in the mixed Lightbody and his Alpha team-mate Rachael Woods recorded a fine 21-14 21-7 victory over Reynolds and Clodagh Dunne.

Limerick may not have seen the best of Matthew in losing out to Nhat Nguyen in the Munster U15 Open final, a tense 16-21 23-21 21-16 encounter which had spectators on the edge of their seats throughout but got his revenge in lifting the Boys Doubles U15 crown with Paul Reynolds when they saw off Nhat, now very much ensconced as the Irish No1 and Sam Mckay in the final and winning both the U15 Mixed with Moya Ryan and the U17 Mixed title with Moya again.

Christmas obviously came early in 2012 with a personal triumph for Matthew lifting all three disciplines, the singles in which he knocked out the top seed Nhat Nguyen 21-15 21-15 in the semi-final before ending the hopes of No2 seed Sam McKay 21-18 21-12 in the final.

The boys doubles partnership of Matthew in tandem with Paul Reynolds were to upset the seedings when they defeated top seeds Sam McKay and Nhat Nguyen despite having gone one set in arrears but came back to win 21-12 21-17 in 45 minutes, while in the mixed Matthew and Moya Ryan were never troubled on their way to the title.

Matthew Lightbody was a member of the Ireland Under 15 side back in March 2014 which competed in the 4 Nations Quadrangular Series alongside players such as Al Bredin, Caitlin Steele, Rachael McNulty, Moya Ryan, Kate Frost, Kerry Scott, Naomi Darragh, Paul Reynolds, Sam McKay, Chin Nam Soong and Kyle Magee.

To put it in context, Matthew won a treble in the October 2013 Munster U15 Open beating Paul Reynolds, the top seed, in the final of the boys singles with a score-line of 21-14 21-16 highlighting the Alpha player’s domination at that point while today Reynolds enjoys a WORLD ranking of 88, and significantly winning the Czech Open last year with his men’s doubles partner Joshua Magee.

The other two parts of Matthew’s treble saw him partner his Alpha club-mate Rachael Woods to the mixed doubles title while teaming up with his singles opponent Reynolds to claim the boys doubles.

Also, in Munster that weekend another Alpha player Matthew Cheung was also celebrating a double triumph this time at Under 11 level, lifting Boys Singles with a victory over David Downey while adding the mixed title in partnership with Chloe Woods.

Matthew won a treble in the U13 Nationals hosted at the National Badminton Centre in Lisburn capturing the singles, the boys doubles with Niall Armstrong and the mixed with Rachael Woods.

The singles was an outstanding final with both Matthew and Reynolds both at the top of their game before Matthew came through 19-21 21-11 23-21.

In the boys doubles Niall Armstrong and Matthew saw off the Mount Pleasant pair of Paul Reynolds and Nhat Nguyen 21-15 13-21 21-14 while in the mixed Matthew Lightbody and his Alpha team-mate recorded a fine 21-14 21-7 victory over Reynolds and Clodagh Dunne.

Munster U15 Open in Limerick found Matthew lose out to Nhat in the final, a tense 16-21 23-21 21-16 encounter which had spectators on the edge of their seats throughout but lifting the Boys Doubles U15 crown with Paul Reynolds seeing off Nhat and Sam McKay in the final and winning both the U15 Mixed title with Moya Ryan and the U17 Mixed title with Moya again

The Ulster U15 Open in December 2012 was a personal triumph for Matthew lifting all three disciplines, the singles in which he knocked out the top seed Nhat Nguyen 21-15 21-15 in the semi-final before ending the hopes of No2 seed Sam McKay 21-18 21-12 in the final.

The boys doubles partnership of Matthew in tandem with Paul Reynolds were to upset the seedings when they defeated top seeds Sam McKay and Nhat Nguyen having lost the opening set 21-16 but came back to win 21-12 21-17 in 45 minutes while in the mixed Matthew and Moya Ryan were never troubled on their way to the title.