It promises to be an historic weekend for handball in Tyrone with no fewer than a dozen talented teenagers striving to bring All-Ireland championship glory to the county in seven different national 40×20 finals.
A thrilling Easter weekend programme gets underway in County Limerick on Saturday at 12.30pm when Brackey pair, Pol Clarke and Gabhainn McCrystal, bid to become the first Tyrone winners of the All-Ireland minor doubles title.
Then, 24 hours later, the cream of underage talent in Ireland will converge on Kilkenny for the 2012 All-Ireland juvenile finals, with a record representation from Tyrone featuring in this year’s finals in O’Loughlin’s.
The minor doubles decider will be the curtain raiser in an exciting menu in Cappagh, with the ladies senior singles final and the men’s senior doubles showdown providing the next two courses on an appetising programme. Pol and Gabhainn, seeking a first All-Ireland 40×20 title after knocking on the door throughout their respective underage careers, will face the formidable Clare partnership of Niall Bolton and reigning ‘17 and under’ US Junior Nationals champions, Colin Crehan.
The skilful Tyrone combination have taken care of players of the calibre of Monaghan’s Darren Doherty and Leitrim’s newly crowned minor singles champions, Donal Wrynn, to reach this stage and while they head into battle as underdogs they go in with every chance of taking the title home, despite the fact they both have another year remaining at this level.
When proceedings have ended in Limerick, attention will switch to Kilkenny on Sunday where there will be sixteen All-Ireland finals, singles and doubles, covering boys and girls from under-14 through to under-17, and Tyrone’s involvement in six of those finals is a fantastic feat for the county.
Of the ten Tyrone players featuring in four doubles and two singles finals, only Maeve McElduff and Aoife Kelly, who were under-14 doubles champions two years ago, have gone all the way before in an All-Ireland 40×20 championship, and the Brackey/Loughmacrory duo will be fancied to return home with the honours again, this time in the under-16 doubles section where they will be confronted by Clare.
There is certainly plenty of pedigree among Tyrone other young title hopefuls because most have enjoyed varying degrees of success in recent seasons. Last year, Sean Kerr, Matthew McCartan and Jack Campbell were members of Brackey’s all conquering team at the All-Ireland Feile and all three are on the verge of another major title breakthrough.
Kerr, son of well known handballer, Niall, has long since been earmarked for big things in handball circles, having won the Irish Nationals at under-13 towards the end of last year, and he looks poised to add more silverware to his growing collection in the under-14 singles final against Tipperary this weekend.
His club colleagues, McCartan and Campbell, will team up with Loughmacrory’s Shane McCrystall and Carrickmore’s Pauric Mullan respectively to tackle Limerick and Kilkenny in the under-14 and under-15 doubles deciders, and both partnerships will be very much in the reckoning.
Some would regard the county’s under-16 doubles pairing, Johnny Woods and Ryan Mullan, as Tyrone’s strongest hope of picking up a major title win this weekend, the same two players having annexed the under-15 doubles title in the 60×30 court last year, with Brackey star Woods also enjoying a magnificent under-16 singles success at the Irish One Wall nationals. The Brackey / Carrickmore team have gelled well in doubles and could be hard to stop in their clash with Kilkenny.
Incidentally, Woods, if victorious, would become the first young Tyrone player to pick up a national title in 40×20, 60×30 and one-wall handball, which would be a wonderful achievement.
While most of the Tyrone contingent in action this weekend have featured prominently in competitive handball in recent years, Zara Girvan will be entering new territory when she faces Kildare’s Kate Dagg in the girls under-17 singles final. It would be a great story if Zara was to secure a famous victory in Kilkenny.
There seems little doubt that some of Tyrone’s title challengers will be celebrating on Easter Sunday evening, but the big question is how many of the twelve will be savouring their All-Ireland final experience!
GAA Handball All-Ireland 40×20 Minor Doubles Final
Saturday 7th April at Cappagh, Limerick, 12.30pm…
Tyrone (Pol Clarke/Gabhainn McCrystall) v Clare (Colin Crehan/Niall Bolton)
GAA Handball All Ireland Juvenile 40×20 Championship Finals
Sunday 8th April 2012 at O’Loughlin’s, Kilkenny, at 11am…
BU14 Singles: Tyrone (Sean Kerr) v Tipperary (Jason English)
BU14 Doubles: Tyrone (Matthew McCartan/Shane McCrystall) v Limerick (Nigel O Callaghan/Evan Murphy)
GU16 Doubles: Tyrone (Maeve McElduff/Aoife Kelly) v Clare (Natasha Coughlan/Michelle Nihill)
BU16 Doubles: Tyrone (Johnny Woods/Ryan Mullan) v Kilkenny (Emmet Landy/Brian Mahon)
GU17 Singles: Tyrone (Zara Girvan) v Kildare (Kate Dagg)
BU15 Doubles: Tyrone (Jack Campbell/Pauric Mullan) v Kilkenny (Padraig Cooney/Niall Walsh)