Dublin legend prepares for new All Ireland challenge
18 July 2012
Robbie McCarthy and Eoin Kennedy
The traditional 60x30 handball code is truly "alive and swinging" as round two of the M Donnelly GAA Handball All Ireland 60x30 Championships go down for decision this weekend. It has been quite a while since the 'big alley' code has witnessed eight very competitive round 2 clashes and this weekend, at venues across the country, sixteen quality players will bid for All Ireland senior quarter final places.
In years gone by, many handballing pundits could have picked winners with considerable ease at the last 16 phase but that's certainly not the case at present. As GAA Handball continues to grow rapidly in profile and stature, the traditional code is also witnessing a resurgence. With major television coverage on TG4 since 2010, the introduction of the 60x30 Nationals in 2011, a massive increase in top quality club 60x30 tournaments and participation levels alongside a more competitive open bracket, the 60x30 code is currently thriving.
Regaining that most prestigious piece of silverware in the senior softball grade has been the key target of one of it's greatest exponents, Dublin's Eoin Kennedy since last season's final loss. 33 year old Kennedy has only experienced two defeats in the elite cohort since his first victory a decade ago. After ending Ducksy Walsh's dominance in 2002, Kennedy lost out to Meath's Tom Sheridan in 2003. He then went on to record a phenomenal seven straight triumphs before losing out to current champion, Westmeath's Robbie McCarthy in the final twelve months back. "I'd really love to try and win back the title this year. Having won 8 softball singles since 2002, I got used to winning and the loss last year was certainly painful. It will be incredibly difficult though with Robbie (McCarthy) improving all the time and with so many other top players all trying to win also."
The experienced campaigner from the St. Brigids club is relishing the challenge even more this time as he believes the burden of defending the crown is much harder than trying to regain it. For the first time in ten years, he will no longer carry the favourite's tag or the number one ranked position in the draw. That slot has been reserved for the talented Mullingar star, McCarthy. "Unlike previous years when I was the favourite and defending my title, there is no pressure on me which is a nice position to be in. Robbie will undoubtedly be the man to beat this year. However, Barry Goff (Wexford) showed last year that he is well capable of going all the way. Others like Dessie Keegan (Mayo), Michael Gregan (Wicklow), Seamus O' Carroll (Limerick), Brian Carroll (Meath), Michael Finnegan (Cavan), Gavin Buggy (Wexford) as well as the veterans Ducksy Walsh (Kilkenny) and Tom Sheridan (Meath) are all capable of causing upsets and potentially winning the title."
That is testament to the undoubted competitive nature of this season's series. Number 2 seed, Kennedy who holds 25 senior All-Ireland titles (14 singles and 11 doubles) has a tricky assignment against Mayo's Joe McCann in Crinkle while McCarthy will be favourite to overcome Kilkenny's Brian Manogue at the same venue. The remaining six last 16 fixtures are very difficult to call and are sure to have the spectators on the edge of their seats. 2003 winner, Meath's Tom Sheridan will go head to head with Ulster's top gun, Cavan's Michael Finnegan in Mullingar.
Legendary handball star, Ducksy Walsh, winner of an incredible 16 All Ireland senior singles titles, must surely be one of the paramount sporting athletes in the country, even at 45 years old. His exceptional ability and conditioning has meant that he is still in the reckoning for the gold medal. Walsh will be hoping to use all his guile and experience to edge the recently crowned senior hardball doubles winner, Limerick's CJ Fitzpatrick at Cashel.
2012 senior hardball singles and doubles champ, Limerick's Seamus O'Carroll may be the one to emerge from an impressive draw but conversely, he could exit in round two, such is the quality of opposition. He collides with the speedy Wicklow player, Michael Gregan from the Coolboy club. Gregan recently earned his place on Team Ireland for the 2012 World Handball Championships this October after reaching the Irish Open 40x20 Nationals final back in May.
2011 softball doubles winner and semi-finalist in the singles, Wexford's Barry Goff is once again being talked about as a possible heir to McCarthy's throne. But the very affable lefty from the Model County will have to produce his best handball if he is to reach the quarters in August as he entertains one of the current stars in the Irish senior game, Meath's Brian Carroll at Talbots Inch.
One of the most powerful hitters of the softball is Mayo's Dessie Keegan and his fixture with the crafty lefty from Kerry, Dominick Lynch at Thurles also promises to be an intriguing affair. The final round two match-up brings together Tipperary's Ger Coonan and Wexford's Gavin Buggy.
M DONNELLY GAA Handball All Ireland Senior 60x30 Softball Championship:
Mens Open Singles Round 2: Thursday 19th July
Meath (Tom Sheridan) v Cavan (Michael Finnegan) Mullingar, 8pm
Mens Open Singles Round 2: Friday 20th July
Kilkenny (Michael Walsh) v Limerick (CJ Fitzpatrick) Cashel, 7pm
Mens Open Singles Round 2: Saturday 21st July
Westmeath (Robbie McCarthy) v Kilkenny (Brian Manogue) Crinkle, 4pm
Mayo (Dessie Keegan) v Kerry (Dominick Lynch) - Thurles, 4pm
Dublin (Eoin Kennedy) v Mayo (Joe McCann) Crinkle, 5pm
Wexford (Barry Goff) v Meath (Brian Carroll) Talbots Inch, 5pm
Wexford (Gavin Buggy) v Tipperary (Ger Coonan) Talbots Inch, 6pm
Mens Open Singles Round 2: Sunday 22nd July
Wicklow (Michael Gregan) v Limerick (Seamus O'Carroll) Thurles 2pm