Superwomen collide for Gold
04 April 2012
Antrim's Fiona Shannon
A clash of the titans in the Irish ladies game will take centre stage this weekend when senior champion, Kerry's Maria Daly sets out to defend her title against current World and Irish Nationals champion, Antrim's Fiona Shannon.
When the season swung into action in early February, both finalists would have been favourites to prevail in what was probably the most competitive female series since the ladies senior championship launched.
Defending champion, Daly came through a stern test in her semi-final victory last Saturday in Cappagh, Limerick, when she ousted Roscommon's Marianna Rushe in two closely fought games, winning 21-15, 21-18. "I was delighted to get through my semi-final as it's always difficult to play Marianna. It was a good tough game so I'm happy with how I played and I want to keep improving my game," said the Ballymacelligott club star.
Daly is chasing her third successive title which is all the more impressive considering the present climate in the domestic ladies cohort. "I'm not thinking about 3 in a row. I just try to get as far as I can and play as well as I can to keep getting through. There was a lot of strong competition this year so I'm happy to be back in the final."
Daly got the better of this weekend's opponent at the semi-final phase in 2011 but Shannon got reprisal at the Irish Nationals last April. "Fiona is very strong and playing well at the moment so it will be tough fast match. She beat me in the Irish nationals last year so I will just go out and concentrate on this game. If I play as good as I can I should do well."
33 year old Shannon, who has bagged eight GAA Handball senior singles championships and has three world titles safely tucked away, amazingly continues to have the desire and hunger for further glory. She scooped her first world singles crown in Dublin in 2003 and has since defended her title in Canada in 2006 before successfully retaining the throne for a second time in Portland in 2009.
She has progressed at the expense of gifted Ulster players, Down's Lorraine Havern 21-14, 21-12 in the quarters and fellow St. Paul's player, Aisling Reilly in a semi-final tiebreak 21-11.
Shannon has remained injury free and maintained her unparalleled fitness levels for 2012 when she will also be hoping to add a fourth senior world medal in Dublin this October. "For me, the semi-final win was a bit disappointing as I didn't play the way I can. My game just wasn't flowing. On the positive side, I never gave up and I always knew that if I kept running and positioned my shots better to make Aisling move more, that I had a chance. In that respect it was a valuable win especially seeing that I was playing catch up in every game," said Shannon.
Alongside her sister, Sibeal Gallagher, Shannon has already got one over Daly this season when she secured the doubles bracket a fortnight back against Kerry's Daly and Ashley Prendiville in a thrilling nail-biting encounter in Roscommon, 21-17, 17-21, 21-16. Like this weekend's fixture, Kerry were pursuing a three in a row.
Looking ahead to a second battle with Daly in as many weeks, the experienced Saffron campaigner knows only too well what to expect from the champion. "Maria has got to be one of my toughest opponents and being number 1 and the reigning all Ireland champion, she is definitely a force to be reckoned with. My games against her are always tough as she has two amazing hands. She defeated me last year in the semi-finals but I got revenge in the Irish and US nationals later in the year.
A victory for Shannon this weekend would leave her in a very elitist position that no other female on the planet can lay claim to. A win would mean she'd hold all the major trophies on offer in the 40x20 arena which includes the World, USA and Irish titles in both singles and doubles. "I feel I have prepared as best as I can. The training is done, the fitness is there and I just have to bring it on the day."
FIXTURES: Saturday 7th April, in Cappagh, Limerick:
All Ireland 40x20 Championship Finals:
(Recorded for TV)
12.30pm: Minor Doubles Final: Clare (Colin Crehan/Niall Bolton) v Tyrone (Pol Clarke/Gabhainn McCrystall)
1.45pm: Ladies Senior Singles Final: Antrim (Fiona Shannon) or Antrim (Aisling Reilly) v Kerry (Maria Daly)
3.00pm: Mens SD Final: Cavan (Paul Brady/Michael Finnegan) v Meath (Brian Carroll/Tom Sheridan)