(Report by Noel Hohohan)
Wexford handball can look back on the past weekend with enormous pride after the Irish Nationals and all the top handball players in the country headed to the south east for the biggest handball weekend in the sports calendar in Ireland each year.
The Ladbrokes Irish Handball Nationals began on Friday afternoon in courts all over the county including Ballyhogue, Borris, Cool Graney, Davidstown, Horeswood, Oulart and St Joseph’s new handball centre in Wexford town with three fine courts was the main centre for the weekend.
National handball manager Chris Curran spoke in great admiration to all involved in Wexford handball for the fine facilities provided to all the players and administration during the weekend and spoke in high regard of all the courts and especially sees St Joseph’s as a great new centre for handball in the county with a multi court arena.
Tony Hannon, President of the Handball Council, in his last official event was delighted to see how well all the courts in Wexford were turned out and he thanked all officials of all the clubs involved and paid special thanks to Tony Breen and Seamus Buggy for their hard work in the run up to the championship.
On the court where the sublime action took place there was some fantastic handball played with some very impressive winners across a lot of grades, and while Wexford players made it into six different finals there was to be no home town winner this time.
The blue ribboned event of the championship was the Men’s Open singles and while Gavin Buggy was knocked out in the quarter final stage at the hands of Ricky McCann, it was still great to watch some of the amazing games that worked to a final pairing of Diarmuid Nash (Clare) and Robbie McCarthy (Westmeath) and a thrilling final followed.
Robbie McCarthy who has been knocking on the door for a senior title in the last few seasons began in the best fashion and saw off the opening set on a 21-15 score line .In the second set McCarthy was again pretty much in control with some powerful serving and some hammering kill shots ,but Diarmuid Nash ,this year’s intermediate singles All Ireland champion began to find the range on the butt line as well and he upped his performance and won the second set on a 21-18 score line to set up a tie breaker.
With the third game only to eleven aces a good start was vital and it was McCarthy who powered in front 7-0 before Nash got on the board with two aces but ultimately McCarthy’s time had come and he sealed the deal on a 11-2 score line.
Fiona Shannon’s return to Ladies handball is gathering some momentum as she powered her way to the Ladies Open singles title .Her opponent Maria Daly (Kerry) had a very tough semi final against Catríona Casey from Cork and her 11-10 tie break win over the Cork girl took a lot from her and her final effort never got going as three time World Champion Fiona Shannon (Antrim) delivered a super performance of handball, with top serving and great killing seeing her over turn Maria Daly 21-5,21-7 .
Ian Griffin (Dublin) was the top man in the Men’s A singles as he beat all that challenged him, beating Niall O’Connor from Kildare in the semi final and then he produced the best in the final to see off a strong challenge from Paul Graham from Antrim on a 21-14, 21-12 score line.
Junior All Ireland Champion Paul Lambert was the favourite for the Men’s B singles and in his home club he was the home favourite but after a tough 21-16,21-16 win over Keith Kavanagh from Wicklow in the quarter final, Terry Kiernan from Monaghan took revenge on Paul Lambert for some recent defeats with a 19-21,21-11,11-7 win .However there was a further twist in the Men’s B singles as Jerome Willoughby (Wicklow) was the man to deliver the goods in the final against Kiernan. Jerome Willoughby came from a set down to win on a 11-21, 21-12, 11-4 score line.
Darren O’Toole was the top home entrant in the Men’s C singles but his efforts came unstuck at the semi final stage when Peter Flanagan (Meath) squeezed out a victory in the tie breaker against O’Toole. However Flanagan was blown away by fantastic Daniel Fenlon (Carlow) in the final on a 21-9, 21-4 score line.
Ballymitty man JR Finn qualified for the final of the Men’s Challenger singles but he was beaten in a very good final by Peter Whelan from Laois who won on a 21-12, 21-19 score line .
Killian Carroll from Cork delivered one of the most impressive wins of the weekend in the 23 and under singles despite being only 18 years old he saw off Nicky Anthony from Kilkenny in a fantastic final on a 16-21, 21-16, 11-2 score.
However his win was somewhat upstaged by Cianna Ni Churrain (Galway) who at fifteen years of age was the winner of the 23 and under ladies final. Shauna Hilley (Wicklow) was her opponent in the final and a terrific match ensued with the Galway girl winning out on a 21-17, 16-21, and 11-6 score line.
Ciara Mahon (Kilkenny) was by far the best player in the Ladies B singles and her 21-2,21-2 victory in the final against Marguerite Gore from Wexford emphasised her dominance in the grade.
Tom Sheridan (Meath) powered his way to the top honour in the Masters Singles final beating Niall Kerr from Tyrone on a 21-4, 21-8 score line. Damien Kelly from Cool Graney carried the purple and gold challenge into the final of the Masters B singles but he eventually went down on a 21-8,21-13 score line to Christy McGovern from Meath.
Egin Jensen from Dublin was made to fight all the way against Paddy Donovan (Laois) in the final of the Silver Masters Singles, the players shared the opening sets 21-7,21-5 before Jensen won the final set on an 11-10 score line after a titanic tussle.
Benny Doyle had a great weekend in the Golden Masters singles event but ultimately the Horeswood club man was unable to seal the deal as he lost out to Michael Dowling from Kildare on a 21-12, 21-13 score line, meanwhile John Cawley (Clare) took the Golden Masters B singles on a 21-11, 21-18 score line over James Reilly from Meath.
Tony Breen carried high hopes of defending his title in the Emerald Masters singles but he was to be beaten by his old rival John Rossiter from Carlow in a fantastic final that saw Rossiter recover from a 21-12 loss in the opening set to win the remaining sets 21-16, 11-1 to deny Breen back to back titles.
Ned Buggy was also a Wexford finalists in the Diamond Masters Singles event but he was over turned by Eugene Kennedy once again in the final. The Dublin man was made to work very hard by Buggy who was buoyed on by the huge home support but ultimately the Metropolitan won on a 21-16,21-15 score line.
Seamus Graham from Antrim secured the Ruby Masters singles in the closest final of the lot, as he squeezed past John Molloy from Dublin on a 21-20, 20-21,11-6 score line in a great final .
All in all there was a huge crowd at the finals over the weekend and a very impressive Irish Nationals left the Irish Handball community with a feeling for more tournaments in the sunny south east.
Irish Handball Nationals Finals results
Men’s Open Singles
Robbie McCarthy (Westmeath) beat Diarmuid Nash (Clare) 21-15, 18-21, 11-2
Ladies Open Singles
Fiona Shannon (Antrim) beat Maria Daly (Kerry) 21-5, 21-7
Men’s A singles
Ian Griffin (Dublin) beat Paul Graham (Antrim) 21-14, 21-12
Men’s B singles
Jerome Willoughby (Wicklow) beat Terry Kiernan (Monaghan) 11-21, 21-12, 11-4
Men’s C singles
Daniel Fenlon (Carlow) beat Peter Flanagan (Meath) 21-9, 21-4
Men’s Challenger Final
Peter Whelan (Laois) beat JR Finn (Wexford) 21-12, 21-19.
Men’s Under 23 singles
Killian Carroll (Cork) beat Nicky Anthony (Kilkenny) 16-21, 21-15, 11-2.
Ladies Under 23 singles
Ciana Ni Churrain (Galway ) beat Shauna Hilley (Wicklow) 21-17, 16-21, 11-6
Ladies B Singles
Ciara Mahon (Kilkenny) beat Marguerite Gore (Wexford) 21-2, 21-2
Masters Singles Final
Tom Sheridan (Meath) beat Niall Kerr (Tyrone) 21-4, 21-8
Masters B Singles
Christy McGovern (Meath ) beat Damien Kelly (Wexford) 21-8, 21-13
Silver Masters Singles
Egin Jensen (Dublin ) beat Paddy Donovan (Laois) 21-7, 12-21, 11-10.
Golden Masters Singles
Michael Dowling (Kildare) beat Benny Doyle (Wexford) 21-12, 21-13
Golden Masters B singles
John Cawley (Clare) beat James Kelly (Meath) 21-11, 21-18
Emerald Masters Singles
John Rossiter (Carlow) beat Tony Breen (Wexford) 12-21, 21-16, 11-1
Diamond Masters Singles Final
Eugene Kennedy (Dublin) beat Ned Buggy (Wexford) 21-16, 21-15
Ruby Masters Singles Final
Seamus Graham (Antrim) beat John Molloy (Dublin) 21-20, 20-21, 11-6.