Tyrone completed a stunning quadruple success at the Irish Junior 40×20 Nationals in Croke Park last weekend and pride of place goes to Shea Munroe and Caislin Tracey who booked their spots on Team Ireland for the World Championships later this year.
Shea and Caislin completed an impressive Tyrone double at 17&U level by securing the boys and girls titles in brilliant style on Sunday, claiming two of the six Team Ireland places in the process.
Emma Conway and Aaron McElhone doubled the Tyrone trophy haul and made it two titles each for Greencastle and Carrickmore by winning the Girls 13&U singles prize and the Boys 15&UB title.
Tyrone had 13 players in competitive action in total over the weekend, including nine young players who had qualified for the eight grade A quarter finals from 13&U up to 19&U.
To conclude the weekend with three grade A titles out of eight was a fantastic achievement, just one short of 2016 when Sean Kerr, Johnny Woods, Antoin Fox and Mairead Fox collected four of the eight top titles for Tyrone in Moycullen.
This time round it was Greencastle and Carrickmore who took the honours back to Tyrone and there was history made when Caislin Tracey and Emma Conway became the first players from Greencastle to go all the way at the Irish junior nationals.
For Caislin this is a major breakthrough as she has been knocking on the door in a tough age group for several years and she has deservedly registered a big singles triumph in one of the elite competitions for the first time.
Caislin showed unbelievable character to triumph from an impossible looking situation in Friday night’s quarter final tie against Claire Manogue as she had to come from 10-3 behind to record a thrilling 11-10 tiebreaker victory over the gallant Clare girl. The boost she got from that fightback was evident for the rest of the weekend.
Caislin followed up by knocking out the number one seed, Cork’s Carmel Kelleher, with a dominant semi final performance on Sunday and then finished the job off with a 15-14, 15-4 win over Kilkenny’s Katie Jordan in the decider.
Some of Caislin’s play in the semi final was the best she’s produced on the big stage in her career to date.
In the decider, Caislin just scraped over the line in a nervy first game but the pressure then lifted and she strolled to victory in the second game to carve out a huge result with a bit to spare.
While Caislin went into the nationals as number 4 seed in her category, Shea Munroe was seeded even lower in the Boys 17&U singles as he hasn’t played much 40×20 handball in recent years, but the Carrickmore player displayed an outstanding attitude all weekend to pick off three tough opponents from Clare, Cork and Galway and seal his place on Team Ireland.
His semi final clash with Cork’s Cian Dunning was a gripping contest that went right down to the wire and Shea just managed to record a 11-10 tiebreaker win to set up a title clash with well known Galway player Gavin Kelly.
Shea’s handball up to the final was very impressive as he fought tooth and nail for every point and finished rallies off in great style.
The Carmen player had a huge battle with the number one seed in the decider and once again it took everything he had to get over the line.
After losing the first game, Shea bounced back in style in the second game and built up a substantial lead in the tiebreaker. Shea then kept his nerve in a tense finish to secure a famous win.
The Two Tyrone players will join the official Team Ireland alongside representatives from Kilkenny, Wexford, Clare and Cork and this is a great honour for them.
Emma Conway’s fabulous success in the 13&U girls event was a notable achievement for both her club and county.
This was a highly competitive grade on paper and Emma had to battle her way through a lot of rounds to be crowned champion.
The wonderfully talented 13 year old was the underdog in her semi final encounter with Kilkenny’s Caoilinn Dowling but she delivered a quality display to knock out the title favourite in eye-catching fashion.
Emma faced another tough challenge in Cork’s Grace Murphy in the nationals decider but she was on a roll and displayed fantastic skill and composure for a 13 year old to clinch a 15-13, 15-0 victory. For Emma this could be the first of many trophies at national level but she will certainly keep her feet on the ground.
Aaron McElhone made it four Tyrone winners trophies in Croke Park on Sunday when he went all the way in the 15&UB grade, beating fellow Tyrone player Oisin Kelly in the decider.
Aaron is a talented player and this win was well deserved and will push him on further.
Loughmacrory had six players in action at the weekend and were the highest represented club in Ireland in the semi finals of the grade A events on Sunday.
Ciaran McCrystal reached the 15&U boys final with a couple of brilliant wins over Tipperary and Cork before eventually succumbing to the number one seed, Clare’s Sean Considine, in a high quality decider.
Ciaran competed superbly in the final but Sean was a worthy champion in the end.
Loughmacrory girls Laura Duff and Lucy McCullagh, two regular title winners at national level, were both well fancied in the Girls 17&U and 15&U grades respectively but both bowed out at the semi final stage to Kilkenny opponents on Sunday morning, having just returned on Saturday night from their school skiing trips.
Michéal McCrystal was the fourth semi finalist from Loughmacrory on Sunday and he had to beat his own clubmate Owen Kelly in the quarter final on Saturday to get there.
Michéal produced an outstanding performance in the opening game of his semi final to win 15-8 against Shane Doyle but the Kilkenny star stepped up superbly in the second and went on to prevail in the tiebreaker before defeating Cork’s Jack Hennessy to lift the title.
Overall it was a great weekend for juvenile handball in Tyrone with four titles claimed and other players reaching semi finals and finals.
The season moves on quickly to the Ulster championships now with hopes high that Tyrone players will feature prominently at the business end of the 2024 All Ireland championships.