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Tyrone dominate record breaking Junior Nationals

Tuesday 15.04.2014
Team Talk Mag
Club


In what had already been possibly the most successful ever year for Tyrone GAA Handball, the 40×20 campaign drew to a close with a record-breaking Irish Junior Nationals in county Clare over the weekend. To bring the curtain down on the 2014 season in the ‘small court’, the O’Neill County delivered an incredibly successful climax with unprecedented success across the grades.

Breacach club, in particular, must surely be on an all-time high at present and two of their finest young stars crowned impeccable challenges in the 40×20 court. In Johnny Woods they have unearthed another exceptional young talent who wrote his name firmly into the record-books by completing a clean sweep of titles across Minor championship and Irish Nationals grades. While the unassuming St. Ciaran’s College student had already claimed the All Ireland Minor Singles and Doubles championships, a first ever by any player from the county, he then delivered the clean sweep with an emphatic triumph in the Irish Junior 17 & Under Singles Nationals at the weekend. Woods negotiated an impressive path through to the final with big wins over Wicklow’s Daniel Curry and Mayo’s Niall Joyce. He then served up a near flawless exhibition of serving and power play shooting to defeat Clare’s Fergal Coughlan by 21-20, 21-3. While he saw an 18-7 lead in the first closed down at a stage to 20-20, the overall form of Woods in this season was exemplified by his terrific shooting at crucial stages in the game. That treble of All Ireland successes has come at the end of a campaign where he lost narrowly in the US Junior Nationals final in December as well as reaching the Tyrone Premier League final.

Maeve McElduff has enjoyed an almost identical campaign to her club colleague in the ladies code. The highly regarded young star firstly opened her season with an eye-catching success in the first ever Ladies Open Singles Championship in Tyrone and the Breacach player then moved on to complete the clean sweep in the minor ladies grade at National level. Having scored a highly impressive win over Kildare’s Katie Dagg to secure the All Ireland Minor singles championship title, Maeve then added the doubles championship with her partner, Aoife Kelly. At the weekend, McElduff then crowned her campaign with an emphatic win over her county colleague, Eilise McCrory, who qualified for the final with a semi final win over Kildare’s Katie Dagg. That 21-11, 21-4 win for McElduff saw her pick up a fourth major honour of the season.

While Woods and McElduff have certainly been sweeping up all before them at minor level for their club and county, another Breacach teenager has been cementing his status also as one of the most exciting talents to emerge from the county in a long while. Sean Kerr entered last weekend’s Irish Nationals 15 & Under singles grade, deemed the most competitive in the 400 strong nationals tournament, with All Ireland Junior Colleges and All Ireland Under 16 singles championship successes to his name. Having overcome a series of tough matches to make the final, Kerr then produced possibly one of the finest comebacks ever witnessed in the competition at national level. Wexford’s Daniel Kavanagh won the opening game by 21-10 and had opened up what looked an unassailable 17-2 lead in the second game. However, what followed had the capacity crowd in awe as Kerr unleashed an exhibition of amazing retrieving, pinpoint passing and phenomenal killshots to cut back the deficit and eventually win that game 21-19. The tie-break was a brilliant deciding game on the last tie of the weekend too before Kerr claimed the honours by 11-6.

In the blue riband grade of the entire Junior Nationals, Gabhain McCrystal went agonisingly close to completing a remarkable clean sweep of Boys major titles for his club. McCrystal led in his opening game against Monaghan’s Darren Doherty by 18-12 but lost out 21-20. He bounced back in an epic second game to win that 21-20 to level the match but Doherty’s resolve proved stronger in the tie-break and he held out to record a 11-6 triumph. This was another brilliant contest and McCrystal himself can reflect on an astonishing campaign in which he captured the US Junior Nationals 19 & Under singles and doubles championship titles.

Elsewhere in the A Grade events, there was success for Loughmacrory’s young sisters, Mairead and Dearbhail Fox, in the Girls 11 & Under doubles. Mairead Fox has also had an amazing season in which she has captured two US Junior Nationals titles in her grade and added the Ulster Under 12 Singles (doesn’t go to All Ireland) and followed up with an All Ireland Gael Linn Championship title with her club partner, Dara Curran. On this occasion, the Fox girls came through a tough draw, defeating Kilkenny in the semi final and then eventually claim the honours with a 11-5, 11-8 win over Clare’s Chloe Philpott and Monaghan’s Louise McGinnity in the final.

Tyrone also enjoyed success in other grades over the weekend. In the Girls 13 & Under B Singles event, Loughmacrory’s Caitlin Conway and Breacach’s Emer Kerr won their way though a tough 24 player field to meet in the final. Following a great game by two of the county’s brightest young ladies prospects, Caitlin Conway garnered her first Nationals title with a 15-5, 15-9 victory. In the Girls 15 & Under B Singles Nationals event, 14 players contested an intriguing series of matches which eventually saw Breacach’s Michaela McCartan secure the title, with an excellent 15-9, 15-2 win over Tipperary’s Eimear Meagher.

There were also other notable performances across the grades by Tyrone players. Breacach’s Pól Clark made his way to the semi finals of the Boys 19 & under singles, where he lost out to eventual champion, Darren Doherty. Carrickmore’s Ciara Mullan lost out at the semi final stages of the Girls 13 & Under singles to Kildare’s Leah Doyle while Loughmacrory’s Aoife Kelly also won through to the semi finals of the Girls 17 & Under grade. In the Boys 13 & Under singles there was a very impressive title win for Galway’s Peter Donohoe who defeated Carrickmore’s Lorcan McBride by 11-8 in a quarter final tie-break. He also then denied Loughmacrory’s Antoin Fox in the semi finals of a very strong Boys 13 & Under Singles grade. Carrickmore’s Darragh Canavan went very close to reaching the Nationals final in that event, losing out to Tipperary’s Sean McAdams in a tie break in the other semi final. and Carrickmore’s Clodagh Munroe and Clodagh McNamee made it to the semi finals of the Girls 11 & Under doubles event also.

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