Amaro and Casey are crowned Showdown King and Queen
The first ever Lough 1Wall Handball Showdown tournament has unquestionably made an indelible mark at the very first attempt and already looks set to play a prominent role in the future annual national Tournament calendar. October weather in mid August may not have been welcomed by the Loughmacrory club over the weekend but, in the end, it did little to tarnish what was a remarkable event that has received only rave reviews from players and spectators alike.
It was always going to be a tough test to organise 345 matches in total over the weekend but the terrific new facilities enjoyed in the Loughmacrory community came up trumps again and the incredible volunteer effort over the three days ensured the inaugural event was such a resounding success. In the end, after 248 players had competed and in excess of 2,000 spectators had attended the action, an amazing crowd of almost 1,000 packed into the Lough One Wall Arena for finals night on Sunday. And what a climax it proved to be!
The Ladies Open boasted three World Senior and four All Ireland Senior Singles champions and in the end it came down to a shootout involving Cork’s Catriona Casey and Tyrone star, Maeve McElduff. This provided an epic tussle with Casey’s use of court most impressive and she held the lead throughout the early exchanges. However, McElduff really found her rhythm from front court and a series of finely placed killshots saw her edge in front by 13-12 after the half-way point. A tactical battle ensued with both players delivering deep corner shots in an attempt to gain centre court supremacy and Casey looked in good shape when she pushed ahead by 22-16 with under two minutes to go. But the Breacach player again exhibited terrific resilience and fought for every rally in the closing stages to close the gap to 22-20 before the clock ran out. Casey thus claimed the first ever Ladies Showdown title and was complimentary of the occasion. “This is a fantastic venue and I really loved the tournament. It is a great social weekend too and the organisation made it one of the most impressive events I have been to. Maeve is a great player too and is getting stronger every year. It took everything I had to just edge this first tournament title in Loughmacrory”.
Meanwhile in the Mens Open, there was 800 spectators packed into the arena on Saturday night as the two semi finals took centre stage. First up saw the hugely anticipated appearance of Puerto Rico’s one wall star, Wally Amaro. An impressive quarter final win over Sean Digney set up his semi final test with Killian Carroll, who had earlier defeated Pol Clarke in the last eight stage. Some of the rallies in that match provided sensational shooting and retrieving but Amaro’s outstanding centre court presence saw him go into the final on a 31-12 scoreline. The second semi final saw Conor McElduff, who defeated Darren Doherty in the last eight, take on his club colleague Gabhain McCrystall. The Breacach teenager had delivered a superb offensive onslaught against Armagh’s fancied one wall star, Conall McCavitt, to win out in his quarter final and for much of the semi final was in that same sort of form against McElduff. But the Irish One Wall Champion managed vital deep lobs and pass shots at key times in a great game before winning out by 24-17.
The final, despite the heavy rain and cold wind chill outside, attracted a massive audience for the first ever Mens Open One Wall Showdown. In the early exchanges the Breacach player showed tremendous nerve with some impressive placed pass and killshots, suggesting that this was going to be an epic tussle. When the duo were deadlocked at 8-8 on 7 minutes of play the atmosphere was electric and rip-roaring rallies with pace and skill continued at a frenetic pace from two top class players. Amaro then broke away midway through the game though and four fantastic high smash kills from the World champion, saw him move into a commanding 19-12 lead. that proved too big a deficit for the Irish Champion to claw back but he still continued to ensure a sensational series of rallies in a memorable match. Despite that resilience though, the pure class offensive play and shooting from Amaro had the crowd enthralled and he did open up a 28-14 advantage. McElduff fought back to make it 28-17 but thats how the action ended to a superb weekend of handball.
Amaro give high praise for special event
Amaro was deep in his praise for both McElduff and the event itself.
“I had to really play to get the better of Killian in that semi final as he is so fast and picks up so much of what you put out there. Conor is a different type of player and I found it hard to break him down early on but I feel I’ve been in good form of late and I really wanted to show how I could play out there. I would say that is probably the biggest crowd I have ever played in front off. Over 1,000 people in that arena is a players dream and I could not speak more highly of the venue or the organisation around this tournament. I have great memories and loved the entire trip and I will definitely be back next year to defend this title”, commented Amaro after the final.
Amaro and Casey were thus crowned the Mens and Ladies Open Champions of the first ever Lough 1Wall showdown but in all there were 23 titles up for grabs over the weekend. There is no doubt that when looking back at the line-ups, the key grades possessed the very best in the game at national level across the board. In the Junior events Wexford’s Josh Kavanagh claimed the boys 11 & Under title with a 17-10 win over Roscommon’s Liam Egan in a terrific game between tow of the most exciting young players in the game. At 13 & Under level, Loughmacrory’s Antoin Fox continued his impressive form in recent months as he scored a eyecatching title win in a hugely competitive grade, defeating Wexford’s Cian Kehoe by 21-11 in the final. Breacach’s Sean Kerr was possibly the most talked about Junior player again after the weekend, giving a brilliant exhibition of controlled attacking play before getting the better of one of the best young players in Ireland, Wexford’s Daniel Kavanagh, by 22-11 in their final. Breacach added another title in the Boys 17 & Under singles event as Jack Campbell had a big win against Carrickmore’s talented teenager, Niall Allison, on a 26-9 final scoreline. Cavan also enjoyed success at the event as they claimed the Boys Under 10 doubles trophy, with Oliver McCrystall and Matthew Smith combining for a fine 21-17 win over Loughmacrory’s Ruairi McCullagh and Eoghan Donaghy.
In the Junior Girls events it was Loughmacrory’s Mairead Fox who emerged an emphatic winner in the Girls 11 & Under event, defeating her club colleague, Alana McGaughey in the final. Armagh’s Dearbhla Coleman added the 13 & Under title to her recent Irish Nationals win too but had to come through a tough semi final win over Galway’s Niamh Heffernan (22-18) and Meabh McCambridge in the final, winning the latter by 24-14. The final of the Girls 15 & Under singles saw a very commanding display from Galway’s Eimear Ni Bhiadha as she overcame Breacach’s Michaela McCartan by 20-11 while Breacach’s Eilise McCrory came away with the Girls 17 & under honours with a 23-5 win over Loughmacrory’s Aoife Kelly in the final. Carrickmore’s talented young pairing of Clodagh Munroe and Clodagh McNamee were 21-15 winners over Loughmacrory’s Dearbhail Fox and Niamh Curran in the Girls Under 10 Doubles final to complete the junior girls roll of honour.
At adult level there were some titanic struggles and outstanding games in a series of grades. In the Mens A Singles final, Monaghan’s Darren Doherty took the honours with a 31-13 win over Tyrone’s Pol Clarke while Breacach’s Johnny Woods came away in impressive fashion in the Mens B Singles competition. Good wins over Colly Turley (Down), Conor Duff (Loughmacrory) and in the final against Carrickmore’s Patrick McCrory by 28-9 saw Woods add another big title to his impressive handball CV in 2014. In the Mens C Singles final it was Loughmacrory’s Mark McCullagh who had a big final win against his club colleague, Brian Donaghy, on a 24-14 scoreline. Loughmacrory’s Ryan Keenan then had a very popular win in the Mens Challenger Singles event as he had a 23-16 win over Niall Donaghy in a great final in front of a massive home crowd. And the Mens Contender Singles event also went to Loughmacrory as Ryan O’Brien eventually got the better of Saval’s Edmond McKevitt by 5-0 in a tie break, after finishing all square at 12-12 after the time had elapsed. The Mens Masters 35+ Grade was one of the most competitive of the weekend and in the end it was Kilkenny legend, Michael Ducksy Walsh who took the honours, but he had to work very hard before getting the better of Chris Curran in the final by 24-20, in a repeat of the Nationals final. Loughmacrory’s Kenny Curran was another popular winner in the Mens Silver Masters 45+ grade as he overcame club colleague, Finbar Fullen, in the final by 30-14 and it was Brian Havern who had a dramatic final win against Louth’s Sean Devlin in the Mens Diamond Masters 55+ grade, winning out in the end by 18-17. In the Ladies Challenger Singles final it was Breacach’s Michelle Warren who picked up another title as she denied Saval’s Annie Havern in the final by 21-14 while Carrickmore’s Elaine Donnelly took the Ladies Contender Singles title with a final win against Down’s Aileen Havern.
Overall it was a most memorable massive weekend of action. The Loughmacrory GAA Handball Club have made massive strides in recent times in the delivery of such impressive facilities and the running of this major One Wall tournament will go down as a major highlight for some time. There would appear to be further significant plans for the future of this event and no doubt it will continue to attract the very best players in the game in the future. Exciting times ahead for both the club and the sport in general!