Handball: Sisters act bid to rule the Kingdom
22 March 2012
Back Row (L to R): Maria Daly (Kerry, Ladies All Ireland Senior finalist), Kieran Kennedy (Managing Director, O'Neills), Chris Curran (Chief Executive Officer, GAA Handball Ireland), Fiona Shannon (Antrim, Ladies All Ireland Senior finalist), ; Front Row: Paul Brady (Cavan, reigning All Ireland Senior Champion and 2012 finalist) and Robbie McCarthy (Westmeath, 2012 senior singles finalist).
Kerry's Maria Daly and Ashley Prendiville are on course to capture their hat trick of GAA Handball Ladies 40x20 senior doubles this weekend in Roscommon, when they clash with Antrim sisters, Fiona Shannon and Sibeal Gallagher. The duo from the Kingdom came out on top in the same fixture twelve months back when they bounced back from a 21-20 first game loss to run out eventual winners 21-7, 21-8.
The sister act from the St. Paul's club in Belfast are current world senior doubles champions and have five Irish doubles titles safely tucked away as well as the 2011 USA Open doubles crown. They have been the most successful pairing from the Emerald Isle to date and would dearly love to get their hands on the Irish title for a sixth time.
The Irish ladies game is more competitive today than it has ever been and such is the nature of the competition for honours that the world champions have not been able to get their hands on the cup since 2009.
2011 female player of the year, the affable Daly, who secured both ladies senior singles in both the 40x20 and 60x30 courts is well aware of the calibre of opposition that lie in store at the St. Coman's venue. "It's always a competitive game against Antrim and last year it was a tiebreaker so it was very tough. Antrim are so strong and consistent and it is always very difficult to play them. They have been playing together for a number of years and have so many All Ireland doubles titles already. Hopefully it will be a good game."
The Kerry combination easily accounted for the 60x30 senior doubles winners, Mayo (Amy Corrigan and Pauline Gallagher) 21-6, 21-8 in their semi-final win and are hitting form at the right end of the season. "We have been playing ok together this season. It takes a bit of time to get used to playing doubles so hopefully we'll keep improving with the more games we play. We were delighted to get through the semi-final because you never know how it will go for you on the day. We have won the All Ireland doubles the last 2 years and hopefully we can play well at the weekend and just keep on improving."
Shannon at 33 is chasing a fourth senior ladies world title this October and looks to be as driven as ever to secure further silverware in 2012. Alongside her ever reliable partner and sister, Sibeal, who recently became a mother of three, Antrim ousted Cork's Catriona Casey and Aisling O'Keefe 21-15, 21-12 to advance. "To win the semi-final was a great win for us both considering that Sibeal is just back playing after the birth of her third daughter three and a half months ago. It was a great confidence boost for her in showing that her game was still strong. The two Cork girls played well but Sibeal is a great doubles player who can pick up balls that no one else can and she plays great defensive shots putting opponents under pressure."
Shannon knows what to expect from the reigning victors from Munster and is trusting that her long term doubles experience with her younger sister will pay dividends. "The Kerry girls beat us in the final last year so we are keen to get the title back again. They are both very good players but I feel they don't have the same solid partnership that Sibeal and I have which will hopefully give us the edge over them in the final."
Losing the decider in 2011 in both singles and doubles to Daly, has given Shannon that little added incentive to get her hands on the title in 2012. "Last year was the first time that Sibeal and I had been defeated in the final but this only makes us more determined to win. We have prepared as best as we can for the forthcoming final getting as many good games in from different types of opposition. Hopefully it will all pay off on the day."
The minor singles final brings together Wexford's Galen Riordan and Leitrim's Donal Wrynn, which will get the action started at midday.
Riordan enjoyed an outstanding victory over one of the favourites for the minor cohort in Cork's Patrick Herlihy in the last four.
Then the Leinster winner showed the character of a champion elect when he dug deep after losing the opener by a fifteen point margin to take the next two games 21-20, 21-17.
He faces a stern test in one of the most gifted minor players to have represented Connaught in recent times in Wrynn. The Leitrim teenager will go into the final in confident mood after he exited the former 15 and under USA junior winner and Ulster champion, Monaghan's Darren Doherty in three games 12-21, 21-13, 21-11.
FIXTURES: Saturday 24th March 2012: In St. Coman's, Roscommon
12.00pm: Minor Singles: Wexford (Galen Riordan) v Leitrim (Donal Wrynn)
1.15pm: Ladies SD Final: Kerry (Maria Daly/Ashley Prendiville) v Antrim (Fiona Shannon/Sibeal Gallagher)
3.00pm: Mens Senior Singles Final: Westmeath (Robbie McCarthy) v Cavan (Paul Brady)