ALLEY CHAT with Antóin Ó Braoin
DISAPPOINTING WEEKEND FOR WEXFORD HANDBALLERS
The best in Leinster but not the best in Ireland! It used to be the same thing but not any longer. That is the unpalatable truth facing the handballers of Wexford following last weekend’s disappointing results in the All Ireland 40×20 semi-finals against Ulster, which resulted in six defeats from six matches involving both adult and juvenile players.
The ancient domination of our northern neighbours by the counties of Leinster at this stage of the championships no longer applies and indeed few relish the task of taking on these 40×20 specialists at this or any other stage of the championship. In some quarters the lack of commitment by many of the Ulster counties to our traditional 60×30 code (many of them do not take part) is seen as conferring an advantage as they can play 40×20 handball all year round, while the other three provinces divide their attention between 40×20 in winter and 60×30 in the summer. And indeed with 40×20 requiring such different skill sets there may be some merit in that argument but I suggest that any analysis of why they are producing better players than us needs be more wide ranging than merely accepting the mantra that playing 40×20 handball for longer periods of time makes them better than the rest of us. In any event that argument is somewhat diluted when the national stats for 2012 and 2013 are viewed, as they show Munster winning seven of the sixteen All Ireland 40×20 boys singles and doubles titles during that period, followed by Ulster with six. By comparison Leinster managed only two titles and neither came to Wexford. Interestingly though, when the 60×30 stats from the same period are compared they show Leinster on top with seven titles so clearly it’s as important to look as carefully at why others are doing better in the 40×20 winter and spring game, as it is to see what is keeping us ahead in the summertime 60×30 court.
Notwithstanding the above, all agree that the standard continues to rise within Wexford and while it may not always be reflected in the number of All Ireland titles we win, there is no doubt that as far as juvenile handball is concerned we have made considerable progress in the past five years in particular. The recent Leinster singles and doubles wins by our under 12s and under 13s could not be tested in terms of national significance as these age groups only progress to provincial level, but opinion across the board is that these are a special bunch of players, who, with the proper coaching, will match the very best from elsewhere in Ireland. Their first test as a group will come on Friday next when they take on either Carlow or Kildare at Borris in the Leinster under 12/13 team of six championship.
Patrick Boland and Anthony Butler made the long trip to Beragh, Tyrone on Saturday to take on Aaron & Ryan Mohan, Monaghan in the boys under 15 doubles but they were never in the match with a chance as they went down to a well drilled pairing on a scoreline of 15-2, 15-8. It was a disappointing outcome for the Templeudigan/Ballyhogue partnership but they do have the provincial championship to console them and they know they can play so much better than this.
At the same venue Daniel Kavanagh made a bold bid to qualify for the boys under 16 singles final, but in a grade that Wexford have never managed to win he came up just a little bit short against the hot favourite Sean Kerr, Tyrone. Kavanagh could have won the first game but ended up losing it 21-18, took the second by the same scoreline and then found himself on the back foot throughout the tie break which Kerr took by 11-5, helped enormously by a flying start. The young St. Josephs player can take a lot of positives from this defeat however and with considerable scope for further improvement, he can be a major player for his club and county in the coming years.
Roisin Walsh and Holly Hynes were at the Eugene Quinn club in Armagh for the girls under 16 doubles against the home side represented by Niamh Coleman and Alana Doran, but like their compatriots at Beragh, defeat was to be their lot. Following a successful Leinster campaign when at times they looked very promising, this proved a step too far as they ended up at the wrong end of a comprehensive 21-3, 21-9 scoreline. It was a disappointing outcome for all concerned but both girls are talented and will rise again from this setback.
At adult level Gavin Buggy and Tommy Hynes exited the All Ireland 35 and over doubles championship also at the semi-final stage. Pitted against Ricky McCann and Paul Graham, Antrim at Gortnamona they let a promising situation slip away as they went down 9-21, 21-17, 21-16. After totally dominating the opening game and taking an early lead in the second Wexford hopes were high, but slowly but surely the home players fought their way back to take the second and then came from behind to snatch a place in the final after the scores had been tied at 16-16 in the deciding third set. It was a game that Buggy and Hynes could have won and maybe in hindsight it might have been a more prudent approach if they had gone after the Masters (over 40) age group instead of the much more competitive 35 and over. All Ireland’s are hard to win and with real quality competing at every age group, conceding five years is difficult to do at this level.
Also at the Antrim venue Robert Doyle and Phil Coleman made a brave effort to reach the Silver Masters B (45 and over) All Ireland final but they found Kevin McParland and Stephen Brady, Antrim a little too strong for them as they went down 21-16, 21-14. It was a fine performance by the Wexford duo who only came together a few short weeks ago following an injury to Mick Armstrong. Robert Doyle stepped in very effectively to win the Leinster title with Coleman, but against the likely eventual winners a little more was needed on this occasion.
The sixth loss came at Tinryland where Richie Culleton and John Bail lost the Golden Masters B (50 and over) All Ireland semi-final for the second year in a row. Last year it was Mayo who ended their dream and this time it was Conor McDonnell and Paul Cassidy, Monaghan who stopped them in their tracks. It was again the deciding third game that proved decisive as the Wexford duo had levelled the tie by winning the second 21-18 having lost the first 21-17, only to run out of steam thereafter as they went down by 21-10. Third time lucky in 2015?
Next Sunday could see the first All Ireland 40×20 title of the year come our way when Benny Doyle travels to Kilkenny to take on the holder Tom O’Brien, Limerick in the Emerald Master A (55 and over) All Ireland final. Doyle has been terribly impressive since his return from injury late last year and following a punishing training campaign he has looked a snip for this title from an early stage. Against an opponent five years older the very fit Doyle will start favourite to save Wexford’s 40×20 season. Also on that O’Loughlins programme Tanya O’Toole faces a daunting task against Martina McMahon, Limerick in the Women’s junior singles final. McMahon is a rising star on Shannonside and it will require a big performance from the Coolgreany player if she is to prevail. The action gets underway at 2pm.
Wexford Juvenile’s in Leinster Team Action
The following players have been chosen to represent Wexford in the upcoming Leinster and All Ireland team events. The under 12/13 side will play either Carlow or Kildare at Borris next Friday night while the under 16/17 team take on Laois at Garryhill on the same night.
BU12/13 (Manager/Coach Gavin Buggy)
Josh Kavanagh, Richard Lawlor, Diarmuid Moore, Dean O’Neill, Richard Browne, Cian Kehoe, Josh McMahon and Glen Murphy.
BU14/15 (Manager/Coach Martin Power)
William Murray-Byrne, Colm Parnell, Ciaran Power, Robert Cogley, Adam Hanrahan, Jason O’Neill, Adam Walsh
BU16/17 (Manager/Coach Billy Rossiter)
Ciaran Busher, Laurence Dunne, Shane Murphy, Conor Nolan, Liam Rossiter, Darren Murphy