In a field that included many of the top shooters in the world, the Irish team of Ray Kane, Paul O'Boyle and Mark Dennehy (Men's Air Rifle), Aisling Miller (Women's Air Rifle), Peter Friend (Men's Air Pistol), Caroline O'Brien (Women's Air Pistol) and Kealan Symes (Team Manager) returned from Intershoot 2012 with a haul of two new Irish records, three final appeaances, five Olympic MQS and a team bronze medal for the men's air rifle team. Intershoot den Haag is a popular event as it comprises three days of competition providing plenty of international match practice for competitors either starting off on the international circuit or preparing for the European Airgun Championships, which this year will be in Finland, just over a week later.
The first to set the standard for the remainder of the trip was Caroline O'Brien in women's air pistol. On the first day with an 08:00 start and after a fifteen minute walk in a wind chill factor of -17° Celsius, Caroline scored a personal best and new Irish record of 364 to finish tenth overall and only eight points from making the final. Although the field was relatively small, it included 2010 European Bronze medallist Manon Hamblenne of Belgium and multiple world cup medallist and three times world championship runner-up Irada Ashumova from Azerbaijan.
Next up was Peter Friend in men's air pistol. Peter had a mixed result with some very strong strings interspersed with a couple of weaker ones. This proved to be a feature of his week and it was later identified as being caused by lack of contact with part of his grip. Peter finished 18th overall with a score of 557. Among the 54 competitors were Michael Gault OBE (GBR) and Vigilio Fait (ITA) as well as four competitors from Northern Ireland: Robert Doak, Hugh Stewart, Alan Kerr and David Smyth.
After lunch, the women's air rifle event started. Aisling Miller started well with 192/200 but tailed off slightly to finish in eleventh place with 376, which nevertheless exceeded the MQS by 1 point. The last match of the day was men's air rifle. Ray Kane, Paul O'Boyle and Mark Dennehy were all in action in this event and Ray Kane again made history when he broke his own Irish record set at RIAC Luxembourg last year by 1 point and hit the 590/600 mark for the first time; earning himself what would prove to be his first of three seventh place finishes of the week and a place in the final. Paul started well with strings of 99 and 97, but a dip in his middle strings dropped him into eleventh place with a MQS beating 576. Ray held his seventh place in the final and finished two places ahead of 2008 Munich World Cup winner and 2006 World Championship runner-up; Alin George Moldoveanu from Romania.
Day 2 (Friday) continued the successful run of day 1 with Caroline equalling her previous day's record and Ray Kane again making the final in seventh place with 589. The highlight however was third place in the men's air rifle team event which took some of us by surprise; most notably Ray Kane who went to the podium in his socks!. The team score of 1734 was only 20 points behind England on 1754 and 32 behind the very strong Netherlands team on 1766. The next nearest team; Scotland were 49 points behind. The Northern Ireland team also took bronze in the men's air pistol team event, making it a very succesful day for Irish teams. Individually, Aisling Miller had her best result with 380 and another MQS, Mark Dennehy made the MQS with a strong 571 and Paul O'Boyle again exceeded the MQS and in doing so acheived a perfect 100 in his second string. Peter improved on his previous day's performance with a 561 and 17th overall. Temperatures, which had been below freezing since the team's arrival rose briefly when snow began to fall, causing much excitement in the Indian contingent, many of whom had never seen snow before.
Fatigue was a factor on Day 3 (Saturday), as the long days and freezing temperatures took their toll. Nevertheless, Caroline O'Brien continued her strong run with a very creditable 360 and Peter had a 556, but was happy to have identified the problem with his grip. Aisling Miller again exceeded the MQS with a strong 379 after spending some three hours on the range with Ray the previous evening correcting a problem with her stance. Ray Kane had a storming start to his match with strings of 99, 98, 100, 100 but tailed off at the end to finish with 588 and another 7th place in the final. Paul O'Boyle had his strongest result of the week with a 578 and Mark Dennehy scored 564. The final was exciting as for the second day running, Peter Hellenbrand of the Netherlands took gold from second place on his last shot, making it his third gold medal in the event. James Huckle of England who had been beaten into second place by Hellenbrand on Friday, reversed his fortunes by taking bronze from fourth.
Overall, the trip was a great success and the team dynamic extremely strong with everyone making a big effort to support their teammates when their own match was finished. Special thanks to Caroline and Mark for rustling up food for the tired and hungry troops and for the general good humour displayed by all. Ray, Paul, Peter and Aisling will be departing for Finland and the European Airgun Championships early next week, under the guidance of team manager Joe Kinane and we wish them all the best in what will be the last opportunity to acheive a quota place for London 2012.