Victories for Eoin Kennedy and Robbie McCarthy in the men’s singles semi-finals but a shock defeat for Kerry’s Maria Daly and Ashley Prendiville in the final of the Women’s Doubles were the highlights of the weekend’s feast of handball at the Abbeylara Centre in Longford.
Westmeath’s Robbie McCarthy has set up a third title tilt in as many years with eight time champion, Dublin’s Eoin Kennedy, for the 2011 M Donnelly GAA handball softball crown. The talented 23 year old from Mullingar booked his final spot with a three game win over Wexford’s Barry Goff while Kennedy comfortably eased past Mayo’s Dessie Keegan at Abbeylara.
Goff got the start he wanted and raced into a four point lead showing early signs of his talent and pedigree. That didn’t affect the self-assured McCarthy who dished out a superb array of shots with both hands to fashion out an eight point gap 16-8 before ending the first game 21-12.
The Wexford man wasn’t going to go down without a fight and so began to dictate proceedings after the restart and managed to level affairs at one game apiece. The experienced Goff had now found a winning formula to curb the attacking onslaught of McCarthy and claimed the second 21-18.
That changed significantly as the composed McCarthy then stormed into a seven point advantage in the deciding game. Goff got back into the service line to get a score on the board but McCarthy continued to display scintillating shot execution, hitting pin point kills to the left and right corners, with both hands equally effective.
Goff had no answer to the offensive prowess of the 2010 runner up, although he did prevent the inevitable result for a period and scored six points but McCarthy advanced taking the third 21-7. “I played really well in the first game but got dragged into playing Barry’s game in the second and he played really well. Barry is a very hard player to play against but I got to grips with it in the third when I decided to go for everything and thankfully, most of my shots and kills came off,” said McCarthy. I was really up for the third and put him under a lot of pressure and I was able to get a good lead of 7-0 and that helped set me on my way. Barry got in and scored a point but then I went on to take a 20 to 1 point lead which was a big gap for Barry to close.”
McCarthy has now a week to fine tune his game plan for Kennedy and hope that his hard efforts combined with a huge crowd from Westmeath will help him edge victory this time around. “I’ve put in a huge amount of effort since the start of the year and the County Board and the chairman, Tom Farrell has given me a great amount of support that has let me concentrate on the handball side of things, which has been a great boost for me. The local people and the town have all been behind me and that sort of support has really made me stay focussed on my game,” said a delighted McCarthy.
McCarthy has already bagged senior honours in the 40×20 Nationals back in April and the senior hardball in June and is now just one match away from the prize in handball that he’s always wanted. “This is the title that I’ve always wanted to win growing up. It’s the traditional 60×30 game and it has always been the big alley title that I wanted to get my hands on.”
In the first semi-final, there was a sense of predictability with Eoin Kennedy displaying all the hallmarks of an eight time champion. Kennedy’s error free game matched with superb physical shape dominated Mayo’s Dessie Keegan from the outset, controlling from the centre of the 60×30 court. This was Kennedy’s finest handball to date this season and the experienced campaigner knows better than anyone how to peak for the latter stages of the championship.
Kennedy never looked in danger and although the Mayo man tried hard to impose his power style, Kennedy responded with superb anticipation to fly kill accurately at every opportunity. The absence of Keegan’s usually consistent power kill shot meant he struggled to stay in touch and Kennedy finished out 21-12, 21-8.
The ladies doubles final was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the day as underdogs, Mayo’s Pauline Gallagher and Amy Corrigan, exhibited immense character and teamwork to defeat the reigning champions, Kerry, in three games. Kerry’s Ashley Prendiville and Maria Daly had held the singles and doubles titles in both the 40×20 and 60×30 codes prior to Saturday and had already qualified for the upcoming singles final.
The Mayo pair had demonstrated their battling qualities in their semi-final win over Cork’s Catriona Casey and Aisling O’Keefe when they bounced back from a 21-8 first game loss to come out on top. That mentality was again very evident in the third game against Kerry, when at 12 each, the Westerners dug deep to widen the gap to 18-13.
“We have trained so hard and worked tirelessly on our communication on the court together, that we always felt we had a big chance. While we may not be able to compete with Maria and Ashley in singles, we have a great understanding together in doubles and it is our ability to work for each other on the court as a team which stood to us,” said Gallagher.
That supreme understanding proved vital in the end, and Corrigan and Gallagher celebrated when they held their nerve to collect their first senior 60×30 crown, winning 21-17.
RESULTS: M DONNELLY GAA Handball All – Ireland Softball Championship 2011: Saturday 27th August, in Abbeylara, Longford:
Ladies SD Final: Mayo (Pauline Gallagher, Amy Corrigan) dft Kerry (Ashley Prendiville, Maria Daly) 19-21, 21-15, 21-17.
Mens SS Semi-Final: Dublin (Eoin Kennedy) dft Mayo (Dessie Keegan) 21-12, 21-8.
Mens SS Semi-Final: Westmeath (Robbie McCarthy) dft Wexford (Barry Goff) 21-11, 18-21, 21-7.