Handball: Armagh’s success on centre court

August 1st, 2012

Armagh recently had one of their most succesful Handball days. On the courts in the Citywest, Dublin, Clann Eireann took top Girls Honours in the All-Ireland GAA Handball 40×20 Feile and five National Onewall titles were also secured.

In capturing the Girls 15 and Under title and the Boys 17 and Under one wall Nationals titles, Niamh Coleman and Conall McCavitt, gain their respective places on the Irish GAA Handball Team for the World Championships in October.

All Ireland 40×20 Feile

On Thursday, five young Clann Eireann lassies made their way from Lurgan, some via Donegal Gaeltacht to the world class Citywest Arena to compete in Division 1 of the Feile competition. Captained by Alana Doran, the team played in a round robin competition and after finishing in the top two of their group, they were through to the final on Friday evening.

As the One wall Nationals had commenced on the same evening, a very large crowd gathered, as our apples took to the court to face the challenge of the Connaught girls, Michael Breathnach of Galway.

Aoibhinn Henderson and Alana Doran played the first game. Many onlookers were simply amazed at the serving ability of Henderson, scoring many aces and as Alana Doran defended the right of the court in great style, the Clann Eireann girls went on to secure victory by a landslide: 21-7.

Such a result set up the second team of Niamh Coleman and Megan McCann for victory. Once they had reached 8points, there was rapturous applause of all the Armagh supporters as they had won the All-Ireland. Coleman and McCann played with wonderful pride in their jersey. It was a much closer game, tit-for-tat for the most part, then young Coleman stood up to the mark and played an inspiring ten minutes as McCann played a great safe game to aid an Armagh victory 21-19 against a very strong Galway side.
Sub on the finals day was Meabh McMahon who had played lovely handball along the way, vital to securing a final spot and so deserving of her All-Ireland medal.

Special mention on this occasion has to go to their coach of many years, Pedsy McMahon. Even throughout the final, he continued to impart his knowledge and confidence onto his players, which was so clearly evident on the court. Well done Pedsy on your All-Ireland success.

One Wall Nationals

No fewer than five Nationals titles came to Armagh throughout the weekend.

In the Girls 11 and Under event, Number one seed Dearbhla Coleman went all the way and collected her Nationals title beating Number 2 seed, Kildare’s Leah Doyle in a most sporting final. The current Cumann na mBunscol All-Ireland 40×20 Champion will now set her sights firmly on the up-coming World Championships where she can still play in the 11 and Under age group as she doesn’t turn 12 until January. The multi-talented GAA star will surely be favourite for both 40×20 and One Wall World titles. Cailiosa NiDhuill of Whitecross also featured well in the same age group and although she’s just turned ten, she made it to the quarter-final stages.

In the Girls 15 and Under bracket, clubmates and first cousins, Aoife McConville and Niamh Coleman(who had just captured an All-Ireland medal on the Friday evening) were at opposing sides of the draw. Both girls romped their way to the final to face each other. Not only were bragging rights in the family/club up for grabs, but a Nationals title and a place on the Irish GAA Handball Team for the World Championships. It was perhaps one of the most talented and evenly balanced of the juvenile matches throughout the weekend. With each other knowing the other’s strengths and weaknesses(although one would have to look hard to find any), it was a test of nerves and who wanted it the most. Not content with just one title, young Coleman edged out on the narrowest of margins to book her spot on the Irish Team and become Nationals Champion: 18-17.

Not to be outdone by her two daughters, in the Ladies Challenger grade, Avoureen Coleman went in as Number 2. She made it all the way to the final and overcame the threat of Number 1 seed, Tyrone’s Michelle Warren to secure a third Nationals title in the one household.

Sionainn McConville competed in the Ladies B Grade. She came through her first round match with great ease, accounting for Roscommon’s Laura Mannion. In the quarter-final, McConville fell to multi All-Ireland winning handballer, Louth’s Karen Lawlor. Lawlor who played in the Open grade last year has cleaned up in the B Grade in 2012. Sionainn is one of the most versatile female players of her age, both on the court and on the football field and the U-17 All-Ireland Champion of 2010 will be sure to be a threat in the forthcoming Championships.

Maighread ODuill was number 4seed in the Ladies Open, but sustained a serious ankle and foot injury in training on Thursday night at the courts in the Citywest. She played in pain through to the quarter-final, where she lost out to Belfast’s Sibeal Gallagher. Best wishes to Maighread who is now currently in plaster, we hope to see you back on the courts very soon.

In the boys Grade, St. Killian’s young gun, seven year old Fiachra ODuill once again showed a display of flair and skill to amazed onlookers – he is one to watch out for in the future.

Brian McAnenly of Eugene Quinn has really taken to the One Wall code and is showing wonderful promise. The U-17 All-Ireland 40×20 Champion has been competing in One Wall tournaments over the past few months. He is just falling short of the seasoned Onewallers but with more time, he looks sure to be in the mix at the top of his age group.

In the Boys 17 and Under age group, there was only ever going to be one winner – our very own Conall McCavitt. Playing for the Clann Eireann club, and only playing competitive handball for just over two years, McCavitt is the most natural one wall handballer in the juvenile ranks ever in this country. As he was never influenced by any other code, he came straight from playing recreational one wall to taking the GAA Handball world by storm.
At just seventeen years, McCavitt entered three One Wall tournaments in the Open grade this year to enhance his own game. He won one tournament and getting knocked out in the first round games of the other two, went on to secure plate victories in both.
His style of play is very American and it is a privilege to watch him play.
In his maiden tournament just over two years ago, he made it all the way to the final, losing out to Monaghan’s Darren Doherty. Two years on and once again, he faced Doherty, now it was in the Nationals final, which was also the Irish Team Trials final. The result this time was very much in the Clann Eireann boy’s favour, as he secured victory with relative ease: 31-6.
Enroute, the Cullyhanna native McCavitt overcame Shane Donnan: 29-4, then Limerick’s Paudi Quish: 27-9 and in the semi-final, he beat the very experienced Paddy McCrory of Tyrone: 24-9.
Conall is far above anyone in his age group in Ireland, should his rate of improvement continue, it would appear that not even our top seniors will handle him in a few years. He will now go in to the Worlds as firm favourite. Roll on October.

Colum Shanks played in the 23 and Under event with an injured ankle. In a draw where any of the players could have taken the honours, Shanks was perhaps unfortunate to have drawn Mayo’s Ciaran Burke in his first round match. Burke has been playing in the senior ranks, which proved evident as he had just too many shots for the up-coming Clann Eireann man on this occasion.

In the Golden Masters Event, Conor McMahon of Clann Eireann was seeded at the top. Conor paved his way to the final to face Monaghan’s Conor McDonnell. In what was one of the most exciting finals, the two men went for every ball and there was some fine retrievals and more sneaky passing shots. As the clock was ticking, the pair tied on a number of occasions, but the Armagh man possessed just that little bit of extra calm as McDonnell hit a lot of unforced errors on his serve as the game came to a close and McMahon was crowned Champion: 18-17.

In the Mens’ Open grade, Whitecross man, James Doyle looked sure to book his place on the Irish Team due to his recent form. Taking time out to train and adapt his game after losing sight in a handball final last year, he had been in blistering form. In the last two tournaments, Doyle had reached the final of Williamstown and then secured the Open title in the biggest tournament of the year, Mount Talbot.
In the Nationals, he overcame the Roscommon powerhouse, Chris Doolin in the round of sixteen 31-9, then in the quarter-final, advanced passed Wicklow and Ireland’s Michael Gregan with two points to spare. On Sunday morning however, in the trials final he lost out by just 3points to Clare’s Diamuid Nash: 23:20. Preparations for the trials final were not in Doyle’s favour, however, the World Champion will pick himself up again as he prepares for October.

All of the Armagh players who took part in both the Feile and the Nationals, flew the county flag with great pride, many congratulations for all your exploits.
All the Handballers throughout the county now look towards October, as all roads will once again lead to the Citywest. Charly Shanks who is currently residing in New York will also return for what promises to be one of the best World Championships to date.

Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh siad.