Mayo’s Joe McCann put all the disappointment of losing out in the M Donnelly GAA Handball softball doubles final in September, alongside Dessie Keegan behind him with an impressive win last weekend in Belfast. The former 40×20 doubles champion began the new 40×20 season with a victory at the St. Paul’s Club where he played his most consistent handball to get his campaign off to a winning start.
“I’m very happy that I played consistent throughout the competition. It’s early in the season but its a big confidence boost to get a win like the Golden Gloves under your belt. I’m looking forward to seeing my name up with the great players that have won the competition in the past,” said a delighted champion.
Twelve months ago, his preparations suffered a blow after picking up an injury which hampered his title chase in 2011 but a rejuvenated McCann is hoping for better results in 2012. “This time last year I felt like I needed to perform more consistently in as many competitions as I could and I thought I was training well but I got knocked back by an injury which affected me for the championships. So one year later I’m glad to be back playing. Things fell into place for me and at times I got lucky but at other times I was playing the way I know I can play.”
Like all the top players in the country at present, he will be gearing up for the World Championships next October but the dedicated clubman will be channelling his focus towards his beloved club side for the immediate future. McCann played a key role alongside his Ballaghaderreen club mates to help retain the All-Ireland senior club title in 2011. This talented group have dominated the open club scene in recent years and secured an incredible 14th title this term.
“Obviously, every handball player will be keeping their long term goals on next October when Ireland is hosting the World Championships. But in the short term the senior interclub and the singles and doubles championships are around the corner and a lot of my focus needs to go into them.”
“The interclub is a great competition for us as handball can isolate a player at times but we love going away together as a senior club and competing in it. Without team mates like Vince Moran, Dessie Keegan, Stephen Cooney, Paul Flynn and Campbell Brennan to train with, it would be very difficult to compete in the senior competitions.”
“The club is very strong like that and it’s important for us all to be playing well in each session to push each other on. That’s a great building block for all our senior competitors in the club.”
The Connaught player is happy with his progress to date but is mindful of the challenges that lie in store in 2012, namely the All-Ireland senior and world crowns. “Its great to win the Golden Gloves but the championship is different, where every senior player has the potential to cause an upset. Obviously the All Ireland singles championships would be a part of my goals but with players like Paul Brady (Cavan), Robbie McCarthy (Westmeath), Charly Shanks (Armagh) and Eoin Kennedy (Dublin) playing at the level we have seen in the last few years, its hard to break into that group. Dessie (Keegan) and I feel like we can go a lot closer to winning the senior doubles this year. Exiting at the quarter finals last year was a blow to us and we would like to get back into the final and bring another title to the west of Ireland.”
The senior grade in Ireland is now as competitive as ever and that was evidenced just two weeks ago in California when Westmeath’s McCarthy edged Armagh’s Shanks in the US Open final and Cavan’s Paul Brady and Michael Finnegan captured the doubles bracket.
The new Golden Gloves victor has dedicated meticulously on and off the court and his efforts have paid dividends. McCann recognises the sacrifices which players all over the country are now making in order to reach the highest echelons of the top grade. “Throughout the competition in Belfast it was obvious that the young players in Ireland are doing what it takes to become the next Paul Brady, Robbie McCarthy, Charly Shanks, Eoin Kennedy or Tony Healy. The top side of the draw had upsets by Niall O’Connor (Kildare) against the number one seed and Killian Carroll (Cork) knocking out the number 4 seed Diarmuid Nash (Clare) and that was only in the first round. This would raise a few eyebrows but when the likes of Killian continued to advance and beat an experienced player like Brendan Fleming and then a fantastic young player from my home club, Stephen Cooney in the semis, it shows how committed he is to becoming the best in Ireland.”
“I knew Stephen was playing great handball coming into the Gloves and when he beat Niall O’Connor, I thought it would be an all Ballaghaderreen final but Killian pulled out all the stops. Stephen showed great character and his true ability in the second game which was the best of the tournament in my opinion. It’s great to see these young players playing to their full potential because we see the effort they put in and at some point they will get their rewards.”
McCann had also high praise for the officials who organised a great event last weekend in Belfast when he said,” there are a lot of great players in Irish handball but great organisers, clubs and officials are needed to run competitions like the Golden Gloves. Seamus O’Tuama (Tournament Coordinator) pulled them all together to run a great tournament, especially for the up and coming players.”