It’s a new year and a new championship season, but the same favourite tag is thrown at Cavan’s Paul Brady. Bidding for his eight All-Ireland Senior Singles crown, the Mullahoran man is certain to have one eye on the prize, but the other focused on his opening round game in Kingscourt this weekend.
“Of course you think about retaining the title every now and then, but this week is about getting prepared for my first game on Saturday,” said Brady.
It’s been almost nine months since Brady last played competitive handball on Irish soil, with the exception of the recent Ulster Championship where he was forced to pull out due to injury; and it’s been a busy few months for the 31-year-old. Brady is currently completing studies in a postgraduate diploma in education, while also continuing this maintain his well-documented strict training regime. Brady also continues to train with his club football side, Mullahoran, but handball is taking precedence at the moment.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back into proper championship mode this weekend; we had the Ulster Provincial weekend a while back, but the All-Ireland Senior Championship is what I’ve been focusing on,” he said.
On Saturday, Clare youngster Niall Malone will come up against a certain childhood hero in Brady, and the Cavan man recalls the first time he played at senior level.
“I remember playing Peter McAuley (Louth) in the Golden Gloves the year after I won the 17 and Under Worlds; I also remember not doing as well as I hoped I would,” recalled the Breffni man.
This year’s championship format has changed and all round of 32 and round of 16 games will take place in Kingscourt (Cavan) and St Coman’s (Roscommon) on Saturday, and Crinkle (Offaly) on Sunday, as opposed to over two weekends as in previous years. “I think it’s much better for all senior players,” said Brady.
“It allows you to peak in a shorter season and all handballers are used to playing in a tournament setting where they play a number of games the same day.”
Some of the most eagerly awaited first round clashes include the meeting of Antrim’s Owen McKenna and Tipperary’s Ger Coonan; Cork’s Brendan Fleming and Wicklow’s Jerome Willoughby, and Mayo’s Vinnie Moran and Limerick’s Seamus O’Carroll.
The Ladies Open Championship also gets underway this weekend, with three games down for decision in Kingscourt, and O’Loughlin’s (Kilkenny). The meeting of Tyrone’s Lisa McAleer and Mayo’s Amy Corrigan is likely to be a tight affair, while Wicklow’s Shauna Hilley takes on Cork’s Aisling O’Keeffe and Roscommon’s Hilary Rushe faces Wexford’s rising star, Marguerite Gore.
One thing is for certain – the championship season is here and there are sure to be some upsets to the script.