People Focus: All Ireland winner Shane O’Neill just mad for GAA Handball and why the “Sky is the Limit”

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GAA Handball has unquestionably seen a very rich vein of form within the O’Neill County for the past decade and once again, as the curtain came down on the 40×20 season last week, things remain in a positive looking position.

A number a Tyrone players have maintained their form in the national arena and for the second year running, the O’Neill County won an All Ireland Intermediate championship title. Considering that grade is the springboard to Senior handball in Ireland, it certainly opens the door further to an exciting future for the Red Hand County at the highest level.

Breacach clubman, Shane O’Neill, was the player who teamed up with rising young star, Seán Kerr, to claim gold in that grade, having gone so close on a host previous attempts.

Tyrone Life caught up with the latest GAA Handball All Ireland champion from what is becoming the dominant County in Ireland in the sport.

Shane O’Neill tells us about his experiences in the game and where he sees the future for the sport

People in Focus: Q&A with Shane O’Neill
Tyrone GAA Handball

When did you start playing handball: A long number of years ago, I was under 12

Handball honours:

Let me think…

  • 3 world 40×20 championships
  • 3 all Ireland 40×20 Club Championship titles (Junior B, Junior & intermediate)
  • Boston Open Mens A 40×20 Singles
  • U.S Open Mens A 40×20 Singles
  • All Ireland Junior Singles 40×20 Championship
  • All Ireland Intermediate doubles 40×20 Championship
  • Golden Gloves Mens A Singles 40×20 title
  • All Ireland 60×30 softball Junior Club championship
  • All Ireland 60×30 softball Junior singles championship
  • Irish Nationals 60×30 softball doubles

Also loads of ulster championships 40×20 and 60×30 championship; 40×20 Tyrone Junior, Intermidate championships, 6 Oneills Tyrone senior league and championship medals; 1 Tyrone GAA Teamtalk All Star award; 6 tyrone underage championships.

Interests/Hobbies: Swimming, Boxing, Hurling and Football.

Shane O’Neill in action in the 2017 GAA Handball All Ireland Intermediate 40×20 Doubles Championship final in Kingscourt

Business Life – My thoughts on…

Tell us about your Business and how you got into this field of work?

I run my own business in which I manufacture wrought iron products. I specialise in Automatic Gates and Railings.

I instal automatic gate automations as well as fit and erect railings.

Sponsor:Shane O’Neill Engineering • Ornamental Gates & Railings • T: 07789 935123

GAA & Handball – My thoughts on…

Tell us your thoughts on GAA handball and how popular it is in Ireland and around the world?

Yes, GAA Handball is very popular at the minute. It is great to see the “GAA Handball All Ireland Festival Finals Weekends” now underway, everyone in handball is really happy with this. With everyone under the one roof and the 3 courts going flat out, Kingscourt is the place for handball. This is long overdue. Kingscourt really does suit everyone.

Loughmacrory and Breaffy House are the best spots for one wall.

Now 60×30 needs the same if we are to improve softball and run off events in a simmer way so they don’t drag on. Most importantly it will ensure that our youth players coming through can see the games and play a lot more softball so that it is never allowed to fade away.

WPH are doing a great job in America also!

What are the significant GAA memories with your club or county that really stand out?

A lot of memories some good times I must say. I thank god every day for them.

Back to back All Ireland Club Championship triumphs with Breachach in 2006 and 2007 – with Ruairi Kelly, Mark McCartan and Barry Devlin

Can you tell us a bit about the Breacach Handball Club and your playing colleagues:

Our club was formed a long time ago and a lot of players, coaches and officials have come and gone. We promote handball as best we can and always show fairness and equality to everyone who is in the club.

Can you tell us your thoughts on Tyrone handball, where it now stands and how things look for the future?

Tyrone handball needs a lot of thought because we have a lot players and everyone wants a shot at the titles on offer, which didn’t happen this year.

I really do think a tournament weekend is the way to go to play the championships off.

The Tyrone GAA Handball Team had a hugely successful 2010 season, with Shane O’Neill winning the All Ireland Junior Singles Championship title in a record breaking year

Fixtures in handball during the week are hard to manage as they clash with other things that have been planned. Dates need to be set on the calendar and the whole season should start off earlier with the Premier Leagues weekend and then one month later have a championship weekend. It would save some hassle.

Tyrone Gaa Handball needs a Handball Centre. We are one of the biggest and most successful handball countys in Ireland.

It is time Tyrone GAA looked at handball and Handball got a proper home like that in Garvaghey. There is no Handball of any kind in Garvaghey, which is meant to be a £6 million GAA Centre for GAA Sports and yet one of the most successful GAA sports in the county has absolutely no presence there at all.

Shane O’Neill was one of the many Tyrone winners of an Ulster GAA Handball All star, receiving their awards at the 2011 National GAA Handball All Star Awards Banquet in Croke Park

Also some Government support would be good for developing the sport. Grants etc. should be chased down and even if Handball had one coach like they have in the other GAA sports, it would make some difference.

A lot of medals have been fought for and Tyrone handballers work as hard as any GAA player in any code and deserve it.

2008 Tyrone Handballers having tasted success in the All Ireland series

Tell us about 2-3 players you have always watched and admired growing up and now 2-3 players in the current game that really stand out for you?

Growing up I would say Ducksy, Walter O’Connor and Tom Sheridan. I remember the Irish Top Ace on TV. Then in 2004 the PHA Ultimate Handball Showdown in Seattle was amazing with over $250,000 in prize money and Paul Brady winning $50,000 as the champion. Paul Brady, David Chapman, Tony Healy, Naty Alvarado and Tyrone’s Ciaran Curran all competed in that event – some quality there.

I got my hands then on the DVD from that and from that moment I was totally hooked – it drove me crazy handball mad.

So many good players stand out for me now and the list is endless. I often find I can learn from kids as well – if I see something I’ll be trying it out!

Sponsor:Shane O’Neill Engineering • Ornamental Gates & Railings • T: 07789 935123

Life – My thoughts on…

What are your favourite memories of growing up?

Having no money and not a care in the world. Now it’s different – you have to work hard for it.

Who are the characters you would have known in your community, nicknames and any funny stories?

I knew everyone near and far. Some dodgy boys now and I’ll say nothing.

Tell us about 3 big sporting moments that stand out for you and why?

  • World championships in Canada, in Edmonton and Alberta. The amount of preparation for that one o.m.g. was incredible.
  • Winning my All ireland junior singles championship.
  • Then winning the Intermediate doubles championship title this year with Sean Kerr. We trained hard up and down the road, travelling everywhere for games. Drove the engine clean outta the van!

Could you tell us what places you have travelled to – and best memories?

The best one was to California for the Simple Green US Open in Los Cabaleros. I also won the Mens A title there.

Portland, Oregon (also USA) for the Worlds in 2009.

New York this year was amazing.

There is so many great opportunities with handball and travelling to so many places – the amount of nice people you meet at handball is something that will always stand out in my memories.

“New York this year was amazing.”

Influential figures in your life:

Muhammad Ali, Gerry Adams an Martin McGuinness

For fun…

3 Funniest people you know/have met:

Seamus O’Reilly, Brendan Tierney and my Uncle, Damien O’Neill.

Name 2 people who you’ve always thought were ‘spitting image doubles’:

Me and my brother – I get called his name all the time.

Favourite “Laugh out Loud” scene from a movie:

Movie lol, has to be “Man about Dog”, seriously funny stuff

Favourites…

Handballers:

Paul “Gunner” Brady for keeping the Irish flag flying high.

Killian Caroll, Dave Chapman, Michael Ducksy Walsh was the best softball player ever, Luis ‘the Natural’ Moreno, Sean ‘the Freak’ Lenning, the Cordova brothers.

There are so many more girls as well. I can learn something from everyone, even young kids. The level of play is so high. The sky is the limit where handball could go.

GAA Stars:

Frank McGuigan for his natural strength and footballing talent, Peter Canavan, Stephen O’Neill, Ronan O’Neill, Eoin Mulligan.

Sportstars:

Muhammad Ali, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal.

Models: Katie Price and Amanda Byram

Celebrities: Conor McGregor

Band/Singer(s): Like all music.

Music Video: Rihanna & Eminem

Song(s): Lorde, “Green light”

TV Show(s):

“The GAA Handball Show” – it was brilliant but massive shame they don’t have it on any more.

After Shave: Clive Christian

Item of clothing: Nike Bandanna

Place (apart from home): Los Cabaleros, California.

Sports Venue: Kingscourt Handball Centre

Facebook, Instagram or Twitter? Facebook

Best thing on the internet? Amazon

Inspirational Quote?

“Don’t be upset by the results you didn’t get for the work you didn’t do”

Inky Johnson

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