GAA Handball: High quality international field set for Loughmacrory Showdown
There has been a somewhat surreal and subdued air within the handballing community throughout Ireland in the past week following the sad passing of one of the game’s most iconic legendary figures, Michael Ducksy Walsh.
The Kilkenny record holder was a very regular visitor to the Loughmacrory Club since his days of attending the famous Frank McCrystall Memorial Doubles Tournaments in the mid 1980s. He had very much made the mid-Tyrone club his second home in recent times too and actually donned the Loughmacrory jerseys on his two most recent major successes – the Irish 60×30 Mens Open Nationals title and US Nationals Masters crown.
Walsh was due to compete in this weekend’s Lough Wallball Showdown tournament, an event in which he won the inaugural running of the Masters (35+) singles competition in 2014. His absence will be significant for the many handball players and spectators from all around Ireland, and indeed internationally, who are so accustomed to seeing him socialise and interact with the many young fans as well as picking up his customary trophy by the end of another Tournament weekend.
The club will instead put on a top class show with immense quality across the grades and are hopeful that the action and atmosphere will in many ways pay respect to the great Kilkenny player himself. Club chairman, Chris Curran, who was a former CEO of GAA Handball Ireland and played against Walsh in two Nationals Masters finals plus the Showdown final in 2014, is certain that everyone present over the weekend will have a glance to the heavens at some stage over the course of the event.
“It is a very tough time for GAA Handball all over Ireland right now. Ducksy was not just a legendary figure and an iconic great but was someone who had become synonymous with all codes of the sport and very much a friend to all those who were involved. His nature was one of friendship and banter yet everyone who knew him was well aware of the immense competitor he was on the court too. It was a terrific honour to have been with him on the Team Ireland trip to the 2009 World Championships and to have even presented him with his Worlds Masters trophy then but it was a greater honour to have got playing him on the court itself in recent times.”
“I also feel that he enhanced his legacy in no uncertain terms in recent times by his phenomenal work which he did in the coaching arena with a host of young players all over Ireland. There are a large band of rising young handball stars out there who were truly grieving at the loss of not just a handball legend but also a handballing friend. In his work with the youth he has ensured that we will see his influence in the next generations to come. That is a terrific legacy on it’s own”
Many of those rising young stars will be in action this coming weekend in Loughmacrory as the very best players from throughout the country, and indeed internationally, make the big journey to compete at the impressive new facilities this weekend. In addition to a very high quality field in the Mens and Ladies Open, there is fantastic quality right across the grades which has seen another record turnout for the club with over 260 players set to compete.
Amaro set to top exciting bill…
Topping the bill is of course the return of Puerto Rico’s former World Champion, Wally Amaro, who won the inaugural running of the Mens Open in 2014 and embarks on a 4,000 mile journey to challenge for the crown, which was won in 2015 by Conor McElduff. Unfortunately, that is one showdown that will not take place this weekend as McElduff is now on the mend following a recent health scare and is unable to take part in the hugely anticipated action.
While the Tyrone GAA Handball star misses out, the fact that his recent Mens Open Nationals conqueror, Galway’s Martin Mulkerrins, makes the journey north to contest his first showdown is testament to the regard in which the event is held.
Armagh’s top class one-waller Conall McCavitt and the return to one wall action of 3 times Nationals Open Champion, Armagh’s Charly Shanks. A host of very exciting younger stars have also moved up to the Open, such as Wexford’s Daniel Kavanagh, Cork’s Tadhg O’Neill, Clare’s Fergal Coughlan and Tyrone’s Sean Kerr and they add to a dazzling line-up while Holland’s Kees Van Der Schoot expands the international dimension to Loughmacrory at the weekend too.
With a change to the All Ireland 60×30 Softball championship schedule it means that current 40×20 and 60×30 All Ireland Mens Open champion, Westmeath’s Robbie McCarthy, who only lost in a tie-break to McElduff in a Nationals semi final will be unable now to travel to the event while US Nationals champion, Cork’s Killian Carroll, is still in the USA.
Overall there are many more top class names in there who could be capable of causing a major stir in the grade and that is also the case in the biggest Ladies Open event that the Tournament has witnessed so far. There is no Catriona Casey, the two-times champion, as the Cork star is unavailable but Down’s Lorraine Havern will travel as a hot number one seed following her impressive third Irish Nationals open title win. Holland’s Miranda Scheffer makes the journey to Ireland to strengthen a high class event and Maeve McElduff (Tyrone), Lauren O’Riordain (Roscommon), Sinead Hanley (Galway), Megan McCann (Armagh) and record-breaking world champion, Antrim’s Fiona Shannon and Sibeal Gallagher will also be very much in the mix too.
The youth grades look to be as strong as ever too with a host of Nationals, All Ireland and even World champions competing across the grades. The Boys 11, 13, 15 and 17 grades look exceptionally strong with a host of key players in each of the big fields while the girls grades are also blessed with plenty of talent too.
Overall a fantastic weekend of action is in store in Loughmacrory. The Under 10 competitions will get underway from 5.30pm on Friday evening to start the “ball rolling” and the action will continue right through Saturday and Sunday in the build-up to the Mens Open Final on Sunday evening at the venue by the Lough.
There will also be a big night of entertainment on Saturday night in the GAA Clubrooms with well known band, Mad for the Road, performing so overall it is set to be a massive weekend of games and entertainment in Loughmacrory all weekend.
“While Ducksy Walsh will not be present for the first time in a long while at a Loughmacrory major tournament, we hope that the massive turnout of players and spectators can provide a tribute in itself to the greatest our game has seen. We will of course plan a combined round of applause ahead of our Mens Open final on Sunday evening as our own little way of celebrating a good friend of our club and a great player of our game”, concluded Curran.
You an check out all the draws, times and profiles of the action in store at www.loughmacrory.com if you would like to come along and see the best players in Ireland and from around the World compete locally.
Well known band, MAD FOR THE ROAD, will perform in the GAA Clubrooms from 9pm on Saturday night 13th August. The event is being hosted in the St. Teresa’s Clubrooms by Loughmacrory GAA Handball and will have FREE Admission on the night. There will also be a host of prizes up for grabs on the night!
Draws & Fixtures for the 2016 Lough Wallball Showdown are now LIVE…
Click on the link below
NB – Matches will commence in some grades on Friday 12th August from 5pm, but these will be restricted as much as possible to players locally.
To Follow: Draws/Fixtures for Boys and Girls Under 10 Doubles Competitions.
The full Final schedule with date/time/court no will be listed in full by Thursday 11th August.