Tyrone GAA Handball: McElduff spearheads impressive 59 strong Tyrone challenge for Nationals gold in Mayo
The annual exodus to Breaffy in County Mayo will take place for many Tyrone players this weekend as the handball world braces itself for the 2016 Irish Wallball nationals.
Now regarded by many as the highlight of the Irish handball calendar, not only because of the three days of thrilling one-wall action it serves up, but because of the brilliant social occasion it has also become, this year’s event promises to be one to savour.
Up to 2008 the One Wall Nationals was hosted and organised by the Sligo County Board at venues around the county but following a request to Croke Park, GAA Handball Ireland took over the running of the event in 2009. It was then launched as a brand new-style event at one venue when the Handball Association constructed five courts in Breaffy Sports Arena at the hugely impressive Breaffy Resort.
Having seen the number of competitors almost double to 345 players in it’s first year in 2009, the entry crossed the 400 player threshold in both 2010 and again reached 426 players in 2011 with the event seeing a huge entry from USA, Puerto Rico, Italy and England in addition to the massive Irish challenge.
Following a break from Breaffy in 2012 when the action moved to the Citywest Arena in Dublin as a preparation for the 2012 World Championships there and over 550 players competing for titles, the event once again returned to its ideal setting and home back in Breaffy in 2013.
It has indeed gone from strength to strength and with the ever-increasing profile and growth of the One Wall Handball schools initiative, the action resumes this weekend with a massive entry again of over 430 players, the biggest to have taken to the courts in Breaffy Sports Arena, including a travelling party of 23 players making the journey from India.
With more than 430 players set to stake their claims for national one wall glory, there is huge excitement guaranteed and some Tyrone success seems certain with the county sending a high quality representation, totalling 59 players in all, which should ensure some precious silverware by Sunday evening.
The formidable Tyrone challenge will once again be spearheaded by the outstanding one-wall player in Ireland for the last two years, Conor McElduff.
The country’s number one player in the one-wall code made history two years ago when he took the Irish men’s open title back to Tyrone for the first time in memorable style and he then returned to the Mayo venue twelve months ago and retained his title despite carrying an injury and having to play through the pain barrier.
Now the Breacach star just can’t wait to get a crack at winning another major title and he’s determined to continue rewriting the history books by completing a famous three in a row.
“I just love this event. It’s the best, most exciting, weekend on the handball calendar and it’s the one I look forward to most throughout the year. It’s been a pretty cool experience to say the least and I’ve really enjoyed the pressure of being number one and having to deal with everyone always gunning for you!
“Obviously it was a huge honour to be the first player from Tyrone to claim this prestigious title and I definitely don’t want to let go of it,” he emphasised.
The year so far could not have gone any better for the Tyrone star, who captured the Ulster and All Ireland 40×20 intermediate singles and doubles titles in historic fashion and became Tyrone senior champion for the first time. More recently he has prepared nicely for his nationals challenge by claiming the Mallow, Mount Talbot men’s open titles as well as the Ulster Mens Open Senior Singles Championship crown for the second time.
“2016 has definitely gone very well for me so far, considering that I’m still unbeaten, but that all counts for nothing if I’m beaten down in Breaffy. This is really the one I’ve had my sights on from day one and I’ll actually consider it a bad season if I don’t retain my title.
“The prospect of completing three in a row means everything to me,” Conor stated, “from the day I won my first open title I knew that I wanted to go on and achieve something like this and I’m only one tournament away from it now.
“It’s been great to see Tyrone becoming one of the dominant handball counties in Ireland in the last few years and I believe we’ll have a few titles home with us next Sunday evening,” he concluded.
Apart from Conor McElduff, Tyrone will also be represented in the men’s open division by former finalist, Darragh Daly, and Shane O’Neill.
The county will incredibly have almost 60 representatives in total participating in Breaffy House Sports arena between Friday morning and Sunday evening and the prospects of several national titles coming back to Tyrone are very strong.
There are a host of fancied players from Tyrone who will go down with high expectations of success.
Sean Kerr has just returned from the USA following his USHA Nationals Mens A title win and will go into the Boys 17 & Under Nationals event with an almost impeccable record at this event. Indeed he actually moved up three years to compete in the Boys 19 & Under Nationals in 2015 in a bid to make Team Ireland for the World Championships and only came unstuck, after an absorbing tie-break, to eventual champion, Monaghan’s Darren Doherty.
Kerr is one of a few number one seeds in his grade for Tyrone. Antoin Fox is also not long returned from an excursion to the US where he won the Boys 15 & Under and 17 & Under Nationals and he will go in as number 1 seed in the Boys 15 and under singles as he bids for a first Singles success at the One Wall Nationals. Mairead Fox is another top seeded player, in the Girls 13 and under grade, and has already made 2016 one of the most successful to date by an under-age ladies handballer in the county as she maintains her bid for an unprecedented clean sweep of titles in her age-group.
The Munroe trio of Cormac, Cahir and Clodagh have celebrated considerable success in the One Wall code also and all picked up World Championship medals back in August 2015. The Carrickmore trio will travel to Breaffy with very live chances also while another Carrickmore pair, Ryan Mullan and Patrick McCrory, are both expected to hold their own in the boys 19 & under singles and mens b singles.
Tyrone had a very string showing in the recent Ulster One Wall Championships and as well as Conor McElduff, Antoin Fox, Paddy McCrory, Cormac Munroe and Clodagh Munroe winning their titles, there were eyecatching title wins for Caitlin Conway (Girls U15) and Dara Curran (Boys U15) and both go with solid credentials to Breaffy. Caitlin, in particular, has been given a very tough draw considering her superb recent triumphs in the Ulster championship as well as her superb win in the Mallow open.
Niall Kerr won the Mount Talbot Masters event and added the Ulster One Wall Masters crown also and travels to Breaffy with a big chance of retaining his Silver Masters honours where Loughmacrory’s Kenny Curran and Breacach’s Mark McCartan will challenge too. Tony McElduff in the Golden Masters and Eamonn McCrory in the Mens B Singles are others who could be challenging for top honours too come Sunday evening.
Michelle Warren (Ladies B), Michaela McCartan (Girls 17&U) and Ciara Mullan and Elizabeth McGarvey in Girls 15 & Under are others to look out for while the county is very well represented across the Boys and Girls 13 & Under competitions too.
Meanwhile, Maeve McElduff and Eilise McCrory will fly the Tyrone flag in a very tough Ladies open event, and Tyrone will also be well represented in the ladies b and challenger categories. McElduff and McCrory both made history by making the Team Ireland squad for the 2015 World Handball Championships in Canada and McElduff in particular has celebrated some major title wins at the Breaffy venue.
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Overall it’s a seriously strong Tyrone squad heading off to County Mayo from this Thursday and hopes are high that it will turn out to be a hugely successful tournament for the county, with most eyes on Conor McElduff’s bid to create even more history in the men’s open.
TYRONE GAA Handball representatives at IRISH WALLBALL NATIONALS 2016…
MENS OPEN singles: Conor McElduff, Shane O’Neill (both Breacach); Darragh Daly (Carrickmore)
Men’s B singles: Patrick McCrory (Carrickmore), Eamon McCrory (Breacach),
Men’s Challenger singles: Barry Fox (Loughmacrory), Gerard Conroy (Breacach)
Women’s Open singles: Maeve McElduff, Eilise McCrory (both Breacach)
Ladies B singles: Michelle Warren (Breacach); Aoibhinn McAnespie (Loughmacrory)
Women’s Challenger singles: Cloideach Donaghy, Catherine Kelly, Emma Lyttle, Eilish Owens (all Breacach), Bronagh Allison (Carrickmore)
Masters singles: Conal Curran, Chris Curran (Loughmacrory)
Silver masters singles: Niall Kerr, Mark McCartan (both Breacach); Kenny Curran (Loughmacrory)
Golden masters singles: Tony McElduff (Breacach)
Boys 19 & Under A singles: Ryan Mullan (Carrickmore).
Boys 17 & Under A singles: Sean Kerr, Turlough Clarke (both Breacach); Cormac Munroe, Ciaran Cuddy (both Carrickmore).
Boys 17 & Under B singles: Shane Grimes (Loughmacrory).
Girls 17 & Under singles: Michaela McCartan (Breacach)
Boys 15 & Under A singles: Antoin Fox, Dara Curran (both Loughmacrory); Cahir Munroe (Carrickmore).
Boys 15 & Under B singles: Diarmaid Gallagher, Conan McElholm (both Loughmacrory); Caolan McCartan (Breacach).
Girls 15 & Under A singles: Caitlin Conway (Loughmacrory), Ciara Mullin (Carrickmore), Elizabeth McGarvey (Breacach).
Boys 13 & Under B singles: Conor Owens, Jonathan Owens, Patrick McCann, Jack Darcy (all Breacach); Eoin McElholm, Gary McAleer, Cathal Kelly (all Loughmacrory).
Girls 13 & Under A singles: Mairead Fox, Dearbhail Fox (both Loughmacrory); Clodagh Munroe (Carrickmore).
Girls 13 & Under B singles: Niamh Curran (Loughmacrory); Caoimhe McElduff (Breacach)
Boys 11 & under doubles: Shea Munroe & Kevin Cuddy (Carrickmore); Conor Fox & Padraig Fox (Loughmacrory)
Girls 11 & Under doubles: Aoibhe Curran & Tara Curran (Loughmacrory); Rebecca McGarvey & Aoife Kerr, Molly Darcy & partner (Breacach).