Tyrone GAA Handball collect 4 major titles at 2016 Wallball Nationals
Another intriguing GAA Handball Wallball Nationals provided the backdrop for what was a spectacular three days of handball again in Breaffy Sports Arena, Castlebar, last weekend.
Since it’s launch in 2009 at the Mayo venue the event has really captured the imagination of the GAA Handball public and maintained it’s status as the best all-round weekend tournament on the national calendar with over 400 players and in excess of 1,000 spectators celebrating a remarkable series of games in what could only be described as a cauldron of passion, intensity, high octane action and an incredible atmosphere.
Tyrone travelled to Mayo with a 59 strong challenge for honours and in the end captured four major national titles at the 2016 Irish Wallball Nationals in County Mayo. However there was also some disappointment as defending Men’s Open champion Conor McElduff was thwarted in his bid for an historic three in a row by an inspired Martin Mulkerrins from Galway.
The large Tyrone crowd who made the annual trip to Breaffy House, near Catlebar, for the biggest weekend event of the year returned home on Sunday night with lots of great memories, and some hard luck stories, after an absorbing three days of one-wall action in the Breaffy Sports arena.
There were particularly happy memories for Mairead Fox, Antoin Fox, Patrick McCrory and Niall Kerr who all came home with the prestigious trophy they had set their sights on, with all four delivering brilliant performances against formidable opposition to ensure glorious triumphs.
Mairead and Antoin completed another famous family double in the underage divisions, just as they had done at the 40×20 nationals in Galway back in April, while Patrick McCrory emerged unscathed from a tough Men’s B section and Niall Kerr retained his silver masters’ title in great style.
For Conor McElduff everything didn’t turn out the way he had hoped but the Breacach star, who has taken one-wall handball in Ireland to a different level in the last couple of years, can feel very proud of his attempt to complete three in a row.
After coming through the first few rounds with ease, Conor then faced a serious semi-final challenge in the form of All Ireland 40×20 and 60×30 senior champion, Robbie McCarthy, a former winner of the national one wall senor title.
The Westmeath man wanted to complete the collection of senior singles trophies and he showed his quality in a magnificent contest by taking a 13-9 lead with only a couple of minutes remaining, before Conor rose to the challenge spectacularly by producing a stunning finish to the match and snatching a draw at 14 aces each.
Conor then finished off the McCarthy challenge in the tiebreaker to five to set up an eagerly awaited rematch with Galway’s Martin Mulkerrins, who had pushed him all the way in last year’s final.
Mulkerrins served up a stunning display of killing in the opening game to signal his intentions with a 15-6 scoreline, but Conor responded like a champion to take the second game 15-8 and many were anticipating a big tiebreaker performance from the title holder, but it was the challenger who took his game to another level and clinched an impressive 11-2 victory.
It was a first defeat at the one wall nationals for Conor McElduff since he lost the 17 and under final in 2012, his remarkable run including a 19 and under title success in 2013 followed by two history making men’s open triumphs in 2014 and 2015. There is no doubt he will be back challenging strongly again for the title next year.
Conor’s cousin Sean Kerr has also tasted a lot of success at the one wall nationals over the years but Sean was on the receiving end of a narrow defeat this time in the 17 and under final against Wexford’s Daniel Kavanagh, a player that Sean has denied in big games so many times.
Sean looked like he had come good at the right time entering the closing stages of his title decider when he turned a 9-7 deficit into a two point lead (11-9) with time running out, but his brave bid to add to his 40×20 nationals title and All-Ireland minor success was repelled as the Wexford star produced an electrifying finish to hit five unanswered points and claim a 14-11 win.
Patrick McCrory experienced better fortunes in his final against Wexford opposition as he defeated Galen Riordan, displaying many of the skills that have made the Carrickmore player a feared opponent in the one wall code since he first enjoyed national success as a talented juvenile.
Paddy had recorded great wins over Carlow’s Daniel Fenlon and Longford’s Niall Flynn before securing the title impressively with a 14-10 scoreline in the decider.
Antoin Fox meanwhile certainly lived up to his number one seeding in the boys 15 and under event as he produced a powerhouse display of power and passing play to add this to his 40×20 title won in April. His wins included victories over Monaghan’s Eoghain McGinnity, his clubmate Dara Curran and then Kilkenny’s Conor Drennan in the final with a classy and exhilarating display from the Loughmacrory star.
Antoin’s sister, Mairead Fox, has created so much history this year by becoming the first Tyrone player to capture the All Ireland under-14 singles title and Irish nationals 13 and under title in 40×20, also adding the division one feile skills title recently, and her historic journey continued on Sunday when she added the Irish one wall nationals title in the girls 13 and under section.
After seeing off Kildare’s Abby Tarrant in her semi-final, Mairead showed her quality in yet another major final by seeing off Galway’s Sadbh Ni Fhlaithearta on a scoreline of 24-10, ensuring her fourth national title in a year she’ll never forget.
Niall Kerr is a regular one wall title winner and he added another trophy to his collection when he saw off Wexford’s Tommy Armstrong and Roscommon’s Aengus Cunningham before dismantling Wicklow’s Matthew Patterson in the silver masters final with a nine point winning margin (21-12).
Tyrone featured in two ladies adult finals at the wallball nationals as Michelle Warren and Bronagh Allison both played really well to reach the women’s b and challenger finals with great wins before just missing out on title glory.
Overall the Tyrone players acquitted themselves brilliantly at the 2016 wallball nationals with lots of players reaching the latter stages of their respective competitions and so many younger players gaining valuable experience for the future. Many of them went on to enjoy plate success after exiting the main competitions.
With four titles this was yet another hugely successful weekend for Tyrone handball in a year that is turning out to be one to remember.