One-Wall Mania in Mayo

28 June 2011

At launch of the 15th Annual GAA Handball One-Wall Nationals were reigning Ladies Open champion, Lorraine Havern, with Cork's Tony Healy, Leitrim's Sean Muldoon and 84-year-old, Jim Kennedy from Cork.
Handballers from the USA, Puerto Rico, Italy, England and every corner of Ireland, will travel to the Breaffy House Hotel this weekend to compete in the GAA Handball One-Wall Nationals.

Almost 500 handballers will make the trip to compete in the 15th Annual One-Wall Nationals, with Breaffy hosting the event for the third consecutive year following a hugely successful affair in 2010.

"It's very exciting for us to have players from other countries attend this event and with the growth of the one-wall code worldwide, I'm sure this event could kickstart future international events here," said GAA Handball Development Officer, Niamh Egan.

"One-Wall is very popular in Europe and America, particularly New York, but it has taken Ireland a while to embrace it; now that we have, there's no looking back."

A total of 16 countries took part in the Federations Cup in 2010 in Italy, where Ireland finished 5th in both the Men's and Women's grades. As result on meetings in Italy, a new international governing body is currently being formed. In 2013, One-Wall handball will be an exhibition sport at the World Games in Cali, Columbia and the next step would be the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

With five courts now permanently erected in the 30,000 sq ft Keith Wood Sports Centre, Breaffy is the top venue for One-Wall handball in the country. Teresa Brady, Business Development Manager for Sports and Events, had the vision to see how the centre could be transformed and is delighted with the success of the event.

"We're very pleased with the reaction of the handball fraternity to the venue here are Breaffy and we look forward to many years of hosting this wonderful event," she said.

"It's a reflection of how highly our sports facilities at Breaffy are viewed on a national and international level that the One-Wall World Championships will be held here in 2012 and we're very excited about the event."

This weekend, reigning Men's Open champion, Armagh's Charly Shanks will be back to defend his crown but his title ambitions have been made more difficult with the entrance of New York 'top dogs', Pee Wee Castro and Willie Polanco.

"Pee Wee and Willie are two of the top one-wall players in New York and everyone is looking forward to seeing them in action," said Egan.

Puerto Rican's, Herman Mendez and Wally Armano are also top of the best in the game, and produced a wonderful display in Italy to claim the Federations Cup last year. Many of the other top seniors in the country will also be in action in the Men's Open, with Westmeath's Robbie McCarthy, Mayo's Vinny Moran and Joe McCann, both Ballaghaderreen, Armagh's James Doyle and Clare's Diarmaid Nash also ones to watch.

The Ladies Open brings together the top names in the game of handball, with Down's Lorraine Havern, who collected the title in 2010, back to retain her crown. Mayo's Pauline Gallagher will look to go one further than last year, while former champions, Roscommon's Marianna Rushe and Kerry's Ashley Prendiville, will also be in the mix. Team USA's Karen McConney and Puerto Rico's Michelle Melendez and Racquel Murphy are certain to bring a new dynamic flavour to the event and all three are strong candidate for honours.

The underage grades will be contested by almost 200 handballers, who will compete in ten grades, ranging from U-10 to U-23. In total, there will be court action across 20 grades, with the Over 60s catering for players up to 83 years of age.

The level of action anticipated in this event will be spectacular and will certainly provided awesome thrills and spills for the expected capacity crowd to the Breaffy Sports arena.

In the Ladies Open event, Down's Lorraine Havern became the youngest winner of the title in 2010 when she defeated Mayo's Pauline Gallagher in last year's final. She will face a major test in 2011 to retain that crown though in one of the most competitive ladies fields seen in Irish Handball to date. Three times champion, Marianna Rushe (Roscommon), will be fancied to maintain a near impeccable record in Irish One Wall Handball while Ashley Prendiville (Kerry) and Pauline Gallagher (Mayo) will all have a major say in the destination of the 2011 honours. However, USA's Karen McConney and Michelle Melendez and Sophia Murphy from Puerto Rico will add major international class to a terrific draw in the Ladies code.

"The One Wall Nationals has exploded in recent years and the 2011 event looks to be another brilliant advertisement for the game. With the international flavour this time around and the ongoing work to see Handball united internationally with the Olympic Games as a very real objective, this weekend will be a fantastic occasion for anyone to see just how exciting this sport is" commented GAA Handball Ireland CEO, Chris Curran.

"Over 500 players and hundreds more spectators will converge on Castlebar over the weekend and with those participants ranging in age from 8 to 84, I think there can be no better portrait of a game that is for life but this will also show how Handball events are a fantastic family and social occasion. The very best one wall players in the World will be there and Italy are also sending an under-age team to compete so overall an absorbing weekend of action and fun will be in store with the action to be recorded as part of The GAA Handball Show series on TG4."

In addition, it will be a very significant weekend in terms of plans for the sport worldwide. The International Federation workgroup committee, formed in 2010, will meet to continue progress in forming a new International Federation with the objective of bringing handball to the Olympic Games. There are currently 33 countries in line to play their role in this unprecedented challenge and with GAA Handball Ireland spearheading the process, these continue to be very exciting times for the sport in Ireland.

As handballers from around the world gather in the Keith Wood Arena this weekend, expectations are high and the three days of action will bring the game of one-wall to a new level in Irish handball. Action gets underway at 12pm on Friday, with games running from 9am on Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free, so come along and see what all the fuss is about!