Tyrone’s Conor McElduff back in pursuit of major GAA Handball gold after ‘heart scare’
The GAA Handball One Wall (Wallball) season is already well underway and this weekend will see the first major competition in the province kick into gear as the 4th Ulster One Wall Handball championships go ahead in Loughmacrory.
Tyrone GAA Handball has celebrated considerable success in this sphere and star player in the code is Breacach’s Conor McElduff. An All Ireland Intermediate Singles and Doubles champion in the 40×20 last season, McElduff is already establishing himself as one of the upcoming stars in the four wall international game but it is in the rapidly growing code of Walball that he is really making his name.
A first ever Mens Open National title win in 2014 launched McElduff as the top exponent of the game in Ireland and he went two season unbeaten nationally until denied in an absolutely thrilling tie-break in the 2016 National mens Open Final by Galway’s Martin Mulkerrins.
However, a serious illness followed that victory and Conor McElduff is only now embarking on his comeback trail to win back the most prestigious title in one wall handball in the country and that challenge will start with Ulster Walball championships action this coming weekend in Loughmacrory.
The action in the Mens Open will see one preliminary round tie on Saturday with the major knock-out exchanges starting from 10am on Sunday. For McElduff it is an exciting prospect to get back on court and competing for top honours in the sport he dominated through 2014 and 2015, after what was a scary period with illness ruling him out of the game for the past 9 months.
“Yeah unfortunately just after the Wallball Nationals last year I had to go to hospital for just over a week as my heart-rate was very high. Eventually I found out that I had a heart condition called tachycardia (POTS Syndrome), which just basically means with little effort my heart rate gets very high which leaves me tired very quickly. Regrettably I had to miss the 40×20 season and was just hoping come April/May I’d be able to start back doing some kind of training. Luckily enough I have been doing so since the start of May and starting to get back into shape!”
Having seen a three year unbeaten run in One Wall Handball in Ireland come to an end in one of the most absorbing Irish Nationals Mens Open finals for some time, the Tyrone player is of course reflective of all that has gone by and is eager to get back into a winning run of form sooner rather than later.
“Yeah it was obviously very disappointing now to have lost that final in the fashion that I did. It really hurt me. To be honest I’m only really getting over it a year later but I’ve realised also that with such a high quality field I can’t come away too disappointed. I was so close to doing the 3 in a row in the Mens Open Nationals! I’ve very much taken a different approach to the Nationals this year though as, for the first time in 3 years, I’m the one challenging to get the top spot back. I’m not the favourite going in and I feel this will only work in my favour.”
From a Tyrone GAA Handball perspective it would most definitely come a a welcome boot to the County to see such success achieve at the highest level. After a few golden years on the courts in the All Ireland arena, the past 9 months have been less successful for the O’Neill County. While there have been some eye-catching successes by the likes of Sean Kerr, Antoin Fox, Mairead Fox, Lorcan McBride and Clodagh Munroe in the juvenile ranks in recent times, ultimately the County had a quieter challenge for the top adult honours than had been enjoyed in the past. The return to form of Conor McElduff could go some way to resolving that and hopes are high that Tyrone will again put forward a huge bid for top National One Wall honours in the months ahead.
“Well Tyrone has always been a very strong handballing county but has never had anyone as the number 1 in a certain code of handball. The ony top senior payer we ha really had for many years would have been Ciaran Curran, when he was battling with the likes of Paul Brady and Tony Healy and beating them at the top level. When I made the breakthrough to become the first Tyrone player to win a Mens Open National Title in One Wall, I think that provided a massive boost to all the other players and juveniles, coming up in the county, the confidence and belief that they too could become the best and win the biggest titles!”
“It’s also a significant in Tyrone that there is so much help with great coaches all over the county, who work tirelessly and endlessly with the upcoming juveniles taking them to Feile’s, tournaments, community games etc. Having facilities such as the outdoor courts at Loughmacrory, which allows anyone to go and play day and night is a massive bonus. It is one of the best facilities anywhere in the country and the open access for both playing an viewing has been a bi reason for the continuing success of this county in the code too!”
Next up for McElduff is the Ulster Wallball Championships in Loughmacrory in the weekend ahead – you can check out the bulk of the action of the top senior players in the province at the Loughmacrory One Wall Arena on Sunday.
It will then be on to the biggest Tournament in Ireland, Europe and indeed the World this year as some 400 competitors take centre stage at the annual Wallball Nationals in Breaffy Sports Arena, Castlebar, from 30th June to 2nd July 2017. A huge contingent of Tyrone players, coaches and supporters will make that annual trip with some 45 payers set to compete across the grades. Tyrone hold exciting prospects in many of those ‘golden grades’ but there is no doubt that many eyes will be on Conor McElduff as he bids to win back the Mens Open Nationals title he collected so impressively in 2014 and 2015 and lost so dramatically in 2016.
Of course there is also the eagerly awaited “Lough Wallball Showdown” in Loughmacrory from 28th-30th July too. This has grown into the biggest Club Hosted Tournament in ireland and has seen in excess of 250 players in 2 of the past 3 seasons. A brilliant weekend is in store again for that event and full details have been released this week – Check it all out CLICK HERE.
For information and draws on the 2017 Wallball Nationals – Click Here
PEOPLE in FOCUS Profile
Q&A with Conor McElduff, Breacach GAA Handball
When did you start playing handball?
I started playing handball “The Perfect Game” when I was 14 years old, thanks to very good friends of mine, Niall & Paul Owens, who asked me to go to training with them one night and I have been obsessed ever since.
Handball honours: USHA 17&Under Open Doubles, 19&Under National 1 wall Singles, Junior 60×30 singles & doubles, All Ireland Intermediate Singles & Doubles Champion 40×20 in 2016, All Ireland Junior 40×20 Singles Champion 2015, Canadian National 40×20 Open Doubles, 1 wall Mens Open National Champion 2014 & 2015 and runner-up 2016, plus many Ulster & County titles.
Other achievements: 4 County Medals with Loughmacrory in Gaelic Football, No.1 Table Tennis player in Tyrone!
Interests/Hobbies: I play a lot of Online Poker, love every sport there is, have a great interest in music and play quite a bit of guitar.
GAA & Handball – My thoughts on…
Firstly handball is a GAA sport but there are different codes – 40×20, One Wall and 60×30. Tell us your thoughts on these three codes of handball and how popular they are in Ireland and around the world?
Handball is becoming a very popular sport indeed, especially in Tyrone. The success rate with Tyrone’s juveniles and adults has just been increasing year after year which is brilliant to see. I think the big reason for the growth of handball around the country and especially in Tyrone, is the introduction of the 1 wall courts into local clubs and schools. Not like 40×20 or 60×30 which are expensive, 1 wall courts can be set up almost anywhere, which makes it very handy and cheap for clubs and schools to get into the game. With 1 wall courts being put in local schools there are more and more people getting to know about the game and, as is the case with myself, once you start to play the game, it becomes a “sport for life”. One Wall handball is just so much fun to play and is a really good workout for anyone who takes it up.
60×30 handball is arguably the most pure form of handball there is and is such a great game also. But it doesn’t seem to be as popular up north as it would in the south. I would only play 60×30 handball for fun whereas with 40×20 & 1 wall I would take the game pretty serious.
40×20 is the cadillac of handball. It is the form of handball which would require the greatest technique, fitness, strength and mentality, basically like playing a game of chess in a handball court!
The GAA plays a huge role in family and community life in Ireland. What are the significant GAA memories with your club or county that really stand out?
Handball in my house/family line has just become like a religion. We are forever talking about it and when it’s handball time, nothing gets in the way. I have many great memories but the ones that stand out is winning the Under 15 All Ireland doubles semi-final at home in my first year of playing. The gallery was packed and to hear such cheering and roaring was just such a thrill for me at such a young age. Obviously winning the Mens Open 1 wall national title where this time I had the whole county cheering me on, which was just the greatest feeling I’ve ever had.
Can you tell us a bit about the Breacach Handball Club and your playing colleagues?
Breacach is quickly becoming the top club in the whole of Ireland. The club is now winning Open titles, we have a number of players in Senior & Intermediate level, last year Johnny Woods became one of the most decorated minor champions of all time, we have Sean Kerr in the All Ireland Minor final this year, Gabhain Mc Crystall & Pol Clarke slammed the USHA juniors in consecutive years in December past, Barry Devlin reached a world Final, our Masters players are continuing to win All Irelands, our Juveniles are winning numerous Ulster titles – I mean the list just goes on and on!
Can you tell us your thoughts on Tyrone handball, where it now stands and how things look for the future?
I think Tyrone handball is back stronger now than ever! The quality of players that Tyrone have makes for a really great and exciting Tyrone leagues & championships. With the competitions now being organised and promoted so well and now to be recognised as such prestigious events, I feel Tyrone handball is one the best counties there is, if not ‘the’ best for handball in Ireland!
You became the first Tyrone handballer to win a National Mens Open title when winning the One Wall Nationals Mens Open crown in 2014. Tell us about the One Wall Game, the nationals and now looking ahead to this event in 2015 when the winner will go on to represent Ireland at the 2015 World Championships in Canada in August this year?
For me 1 wall is a very special game and one I enjoy more than the rest and this is now the case with a lot of other players who would agree with me on that also. One wall handball requires a lot of speed and a lot of court knowledge, in terms of measuring your shots which is very important as you have no side or back wall to help you out! And yeah, that’s my main goal for this year! – to retain my Mens Open Nationals title and in 2015 it would also fulfil a dream I have had ever since beginning the game – which is to represent Ireland at the World Championships!
The last World Handball Championships in 2012 were in the Citywest Arena in Dublin and in August 2015 they move to Calgary in Canada. Can you tell us about this event, your experiences and memories of Dublin 2012 and what lies ahead this coming August 2015?
The World Handball Championships, hosted at the Citywest in Dublin in 2012 was undoubtedly the greatest achievement GAA Handball has ever had or seen! The venue and the Glass Show-Court really were something special. There were over 2,000 handball players entered and 30 countries participating which was amazing. There were over 5000 people watching and cheering at the Mens Open final between Paul Brady and USA’s Luis Moreno – it was an experience I will never forget. (Video below)
Canada is known for being a great place and are always great hosts and I expect the same come August 2015.
CLICK HERE to check out about the World Handball Championships in 2015
Tell us about 2-3 players you have always watched and admired in the game and who really stand out for you?
David Chapman was always my favourite player and I was always fascinated when watching him play. He took a completely new approach to the game and that is the reason I play the way I do today – precision percentage handball.
Sean Lenning would be another favourite as he doesn’t even seem to have a technique but hits the most outrageous crazy shots anyone has ever seen and of course how could you not mention the greatest player ever to play the game – Paul Brady! He has taken handball to a level that no other has ever even come close to doing. His approach to the game really is an inspiration and he’s a player I think every beginner starting out should watch and study closely to try to mould their game on, as his technique and just everything he has for the game seems to be perfect!
Life – My thoughts on…
What are your favourite memories of growing up?
Have many many good memories from childhood, but the best and my favourite were the ones spent at the Dean Maguirc College. It is such a great school and I met a lot of cool people at it.
Who are the characters you would have known in your community, nicknames and any funny stories?
Every player in our club has a nickname! Such as “Pig” “Puppet” & “Sexy” haha 🙂 – and as for funny stories, the funniest would have to be when Shane O’Neill was threatened during a game of handball by being told “If you do that again, il rip ye like a page!”
Tell us about 3 big Events/Sporting moments that stand out for you and why?
Wimbeldon as everyone just loves it! Any UFC event as I’m a big fan and of course, there’s no place like Breaffy!
Could you tell us what places you have travelled to – and best memories?
I’ve seen my fair share of the world and the best memories would be heading to Spain with a group of lads which was eventful to say the least. Boston would be my favourite place to have travelled to as I have great family out there and Boston itself is just such a nice place -and I could see myself living there!
Influential figures in your life:
Roger Federer, Conor Mc Gregor, Paul Brady and “papa Tony Mc Elduff”
3 Funniest people you know/have met:
Barry Devlin is definitely up there as we end up in tears laughing over the most stupid things usually! Eamon Mc Crory would be another fun-bird and Frankie Boyle as he’s just insane!
Tell us your favourite Joke?
All my favourite jokes are from Frankie Boyle & Jimmy Carr so might be a bit inappropriate…
Name 2 people who you’ve always thought were ‘spitting doubles’:
Gabhain Mc Crystall & Marcus Henry
Favourite “Laugh out Loud” scene from a movie:
All Zach Galifianakis moments!
Handballers: David Chapman, Paul Brady, Killian Carroll
GAA Stars: Conall McCann, Declan O’Sullivan, Peter Canavan
Sportstars: Roger Federer, Jon Jones, Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Models: Charlene Donaghay, Helen McElduff
Celebrities: Aaron Duffy, Sean Clarke
Band/Singer(s): Alex Goot, Against the current
Music Video: Justin Bieber – Beauty & A Beat
Nightclub: Time, Sallys
Song(s): Cash Cash – Take Me Home, Afrojack – Take over control, Justin Beiber – Beauty & A Beat
TV Show(s): Big Bang Theory, Dragon Ball Z
Movie(s): Braveheart, In The Name Of The Father
Actors/Actresses: Daniel Day Lewis, Christian Bale, Halle Berry
Comedian: Stewart Francis, Frankie Boyle, Jimmy Carr, Milton Jones
After Shave(s): 212 VIP, 1 Million & Calvien Klien
Item of clothing: Nike
Place (apart from home): Boston
Sports Venue: TD Garden Boston
Facebook, Instagram or Twitter? Why? Facebook, has everything
Best thing on the internet? Youtube or Race4Eight.com
Favourite Inspirational Quote?
“It’s not the will to win that matters – everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.”
The ongoing rise in profile and stature of the sport of GAA Handball in Tyrone has been seen in the massive growth of one wall handball in schools and indeed in the quantity of new one wall courts springing up at venues throughout the county.
In addition a host of emerging young stars of the sport have come from the O’Neill County and 2014 would appear to have been a record year in terms of the successes achieved both on and off the court – CLICK HERE for a Review story of 2014 Tyrone GAA Handball.
Johnny Woods, Sean Kerr, Gabhain McCrystall and Maeve McElduff were four such players who excelled at national and international level for the Breacach club and in their county. Yet Conor McElduff, who picked up the Teamtalkmag GAA Handballer of the Year Award for 2014, in that same season, became the first Red Hand County player to win a National Mens Open Singles title when he claimed the One Wall Nationals Mens Open crown in Breaffy Sports Arena in July 2014. He added a Canadian National Open 40×20 doubles title in the same season while so far in 2015 he has captured the Tyrone GAA Premier League honours for the first time and in March 2014 he secured the All Ireland Junior Singles Championship title.