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GAA Handball News.

Tuesday 08.07.2014
Team Talk Mag

Historic first Open and record breaking successes for Tyrone at Irish Nationals

Conor McElduff went where no Tyrone handballer had gone before when he rewrote the history books by capturing the men’s open singles title at the 2014 Irish one-wall nationals in Castlebar last weekend.

No player from the county had previously climbed all the way to the number one spot in Ireland in any of the handball codes, but that all changed in unforgettable fashion at the Breaffy Sports Arena last Sunday as the 20 year old Breacach star became the national senior one-wall champion with a series of stunning displays which thrilled the bumper crowd in Mayo.

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The most incredible thing about this massive breakthrough was that history was already in the making for Tyrone handball before the final had even got underway as Darragh Daly’s performances ensured the title was coming to the O’Neill county for the first time regardless of who prevailed in the decider.

Not since the nineties when Loughmacrory’s Ciaran Curran challenged the great Ducksy Walsh for supremacy in the 40×20 court had a Tyrone player contested a national senior handball final, and suddenly we had two players from the neighbouring Carrickmore and Breacach clubs ready to guarantee unprecedented glory for their county.

For many years Tyrone toiled in the handball world, struggling to win a national title at any level, but the hard work never stopped and last weekend’s magnificent haul of nine titles, along with five runners-up prizes, meant that Tyrone was the envy of every other county in handball circles after Sunday’s finals programme had concluded. How times have changed.

To emphasise how big an achievement it was to dominate the men’s open event, the two Tyrone players were very much the underdogs in their respective semi-finals but, after seeing off Galway’s Martin Mulkerrins and Cork’s Colm Jordan in their quarter-final assignments, Conor and Darragh somehow defeated two of the leading players on the world stage, Armagh’s Charly Shanks and Westmeath’s Robbie McCarthy.

Conor’s semi-final encounter with three times one-wall champion Shanks was a match of the highest quality and a repeat of the previous week’s Ulster final won narrowly by the Armagh star. But the Tyrone man, who lifted the 19 and under one-wall title just 12 months ago, showed how far he has come this year by finishing level in a gripping last few minutes and then dealing with the pressure like a veteran by going on to win the tiebreaker 5-2. The standard of play in the opening semi-final was a joy to behold, with neither player taking the safe option despite the high stakes.

Darragh Day then did his bit for the Tyrone cause as he impressively negotiated the challenge presented by current 40×20 and 60×30 All-Ireland senior champion Robbie McCarthy on a scoreline of 24-21.

Conor was marginally fancied to emerge victorious against his more experienced county man, based on their Ulster semi-final meeting a week earlier, and he signalled his intentions in the early stages of the final by establishing a healthy lead. However, Darragh began to build his own momentum and started to find his range, and he seemed to be right back in contention when he closed the gap to just two points, but Conor refused to panic and responded in clinical fashion, wrapping up the opening game with a late flourish.

The talented McElduff was now on the crest of a wave and he really upped his performance at the start of the second game, putting himself on the threshold of the biggest win of his short career as he raced into a 10-1 lead with some breathtaking kills and passing shots. The Carrickmore man tried his best to stem the tide but there was no stopping his younger opponent who finished the 2014 one-wall championships in the style of a great champion, winning the second game on a score of 15-3.

There was fantastic jubilation among the Breacach contingent as their new hero celebrated the greatest victory of his life, barely able to take in what he had achieved. The new Irish one-wall champion was in a state of disbelief afterwards and summed it all up as a “crazy weekend”, during which he had “fulfilled a lifetime ambition by winning a major open handball title and becoming the men’s open one-wall champion!”

Judging by all the evidence of last weekend, there is a lot more to come from Tyrone’s Conor McElduff over the next few years, and there is certainly a lot more to come from Tyrone handball in general as the county now finds itself in a place that didn’t seem possible a few years ago.

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Elsewhere it was again significant that Breacach remain to the forefront of major accolades this season. Sean Kerr, who produced another exceptional display to claim a hugely competitive Boys 15 & Under event, was surely one of the stars of the weekend. His dazzling displays earned him the attention of the Team Edtl Star Handball Team as he became the latest player to join those ranks. Kerr once again denied Wexford’s highly regarded young talent, Daniel Kavanagh, by 22-15 in a terrific final.

Johnny Woods could not have been more emphatic in his challenge for silverware in 2014. Following a historic All Ireland Minor Singles and Doubles Championship double in the 40×20 court earlier this year he has now added the prestigious Nationals Boys 19 & Under title, despite still having a year to play in the grade. Johnny had a fantastic final win over Cork’s Ryan Harkin while Carrickmore’s Lorcan McBride served up a series of battling displays to come away with the Boys 13 & Under Singles crown. A 18-18 draw in his semi final with Eibhin Dillon (Galway) and a 5-3 tie-break win over that player was then followed by a 20-19 final win against Monaghan’s Eoghan McGinnity.

Loughmacrory picked up their One Wall Nationals title at the weekend in the Girls 11 & Under Doubles event as the Fox sisters, Mariead and Dearbhail, added the One Wall Nationals title to the 40×20 title won in April, defeating the strong Clare/Monaghan partnership in the final.

There was another national triumph also for Breacach’s Niall Kerr who was a convincing winner of the Silver Masters A Singles event at the One Wall Nationals. A 31-7 final win over Wicklow’s Matthew Patterson earned Kerr his third One Wall Nationals success in recent years while Michelle Warren added to her recent Ulster One Wall Championship success by defeating Down’s Annie Havern in the Ladies Challenger Final.

There were a number of B Singles successes for Tyrone players at the One Wall Nationals also. Cahir Munroe, despite having another year in the grade, won a very competitive Boys 13 & Under B Singles with excellent handball all through the competition and Carrickmore’s Ciaran Cuddy added the Boys 15 & Under B Singles title with a series of very good performances in another big number grade, defeating Mallow’s Niall Delaney in the final.

A total of nine titles secured and the County also went close in a number of other finals. In the Masters Singles final, Loughmacrory’s Chris Curran came up against Kilkenny legend, Ducksy Walsh and after a tough encounter lost out by 22-18. Carrickmore’s Niall Allison had produced terrific form all through the Boys 17 & Under grade and gave a brilliant account of himself against Galway’s Jamie Kelly in the final, only to lose out by five aces in the end. Breacach’s Eilise MCCrory again reached another major final as she set up a Girls 17 & Under final test against Armagh’s Niamh Coleman but found that hurdle too tough this time around, falling by eight aces in the end. Michaela McCartan went close to completing a mother and daughter weekend double when winning through to the final of the Girls 15 & Under B Singles but lost out at the last stage of the competition.

Maeve McElduff also gets a special mention as, at just 18 years of age, she put in a strong showing in the Ladies Open, losing out to Netherlands star, Miranda Scheffer, by 30-27 in an absorbing Ladies Open quarter final. Dara Curran lost by a single point, 20-19 in the Boys 13 & Under quarter final, Antoin Fox lost by a similar margin in the upper half of that draw, Caitlin Conway lost 5-4 in a tie-break in the Girls 13 & Under quarter final and went on to win the Plate in that grade, Cormac Munroe put in a bold showing in the Boys 15 & Under despite being just overage for the 13s grade losing out to Wexford’s Daniel Kavanagh, while Matthew McCartan also lost after a tie-break in the semi finals of the Boys 17 & Under B Singles.

A massive weekend of handball in spectacular surroundings. Once again the atmosphere was electric all weekend in Castlebar and with non-stop high octane action from the opening games on Friday afternoon, this will again be a handball weekend which will provide great memories for all who attended.

Finals Results – Tyrone players:

GAA Handball One Wall Nationals Finals 2014

Mens Open Singles Final: Conor McElduff (Breacach, Tyrone) dft Darragh Daly (Carrickmore, Tyrone) 15-9, 15-3

Silver Masters Singles Final: Niall Kerr (Breacach, Tyrone) dft Matthew Patterson (Wicklow) 31-7

Masters Final: Ducksy Walsh (Kilkenny) dft Chris Curran (Loughmacrory, Tyrone) 22-18

Ladies Challenger Singles Final: Michelle Warren (Breacach, Tyrone) dft Annie Havern (Tyrone) 28-14

Boys 13 & Under Singles Final: Lorcan McBride (Carrickmore, Tyrone) dft Eoghan McGinnity (Monaghan) 20-19

Boys 13 & Under B singles Final: Cahir Munroe (Carrickmore, Tyrone) dft Conor Drennan (Kilkenny) 17-11

Boys 15 & Under Singles Final: Sean Kerr (Breacach, Tyrone) dft Daniel Kavanagh (Wexford) 22-15

Boys 15 & Under B Singles Final: Ciaran Cuddy (Carrickmore, Tyrone) dft Niall Delaney (Cork) 23-16

Boys 17 & Under Singles Final: Jamie Kelly (Galway) dft Niall Allison (Carrickmore, Tyrone) 17-10

Boys 19 & Under Singles Final: Johnny Woods (Breacach, Tyrone) dft Ryan Harkin (Cork) 15-11

Girls 11 & Under Doubles Final: Mairead & Dearbhail Fox (Loughmacrory, Tyrone) dft Louise McGinnity & Chloe Philpott (Monaghan/Clare) 29-8

Girls 15 & Under B Singles Final: Laura Finn (Sligo) dft Michaela McCartan (Breacach, Tyrone) 12-10

Girls 17 & Under Singles Final: Niamh Coleman (Armagh) dft Eilise McCrory (Breacach, Tyrone) 24-11

Congratulations are due to all the successful Tyrone payers who stamped their class on the one-wall nationals in Breaffy House.

Well done to the following players who were crowned champions – Mairead and Dearbhail Fox (11 and under girls doubles), Lorcan McBride (13 and under boys), Cahir Munroe (13 and under B), Sean Kerr (15 and under boys), Ciaran Cuddy (15 and under B), Johnny Woods (19 and under), Michelle Warren (Women’s challenger), Niall Kerr (silver masters) and the history making men’s open champion, Conor McElduff. The five national runners-up were Niall Allison (17 and under boys), Eilise McCrory (15 and under girls), Michaela McCartan (15 and under B), Chris Curran (masters) and the player who ensured an all-Tyrone men’s open final for the first time, Darragh Daly.

Tyrone thus completing a weekend in which they topped the National weekend roll of honour with 9 titles (6 ahead of any other county) and five runners-up also.

Make no mistake, this was one of the greatest days in the history of Tyrone handball, the day when the O’Neill County came of age at the highest level.



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