Gold for Laois at World Handball Championships
Over 1000 handballers from twenty countries travelled to Canada to compete in the 2015 World Handball Championships that took place from between 11th to 21st August in Alberta, Calgary. Laois had three representatives who each entered these championships with realistic ambitions of capturing World Titles.
Tómas Lennon and Michael Donovan were entered in the Men’s C singles competition and both made encouraging starts with emphatic wins in their opening round games. Tómas recorded a highly impressive 21-3 21-5 victory over Peter Harte (Tyrone) while Michael won out in a three game thriller against a skilful opponent in Shane Murphy (Limerick) 21-16 16-21 11-7. In the Round of 16, Michael was pitted against one of the championship favourites in Noel Holohan (Wexford) while Tómas faced the largely unknown Daniel Grant (London).
Disappointingly, Michael never produced the quality of handball that he is capable of in his encounter with the Wexford man, losing out in two games 21-13 21-6. There was more joy for Tómas who once again displayed devastating precision to defeat Daniel Grant 21-1 21-2. This set up a mouth-watering encounter with Noel Holohan in the quarter-finals. Unfortunately, Tómas was to face an opponent in blistering form and he bowed out of the competition on a 21-9 21-10 scoreline.
In the Men’s 50+ grade, Paddy Donovan started the championships positively by producing a polished performance to defeat Shawn Linnell (USA) 21-12 21-6. His reward for that victory was an encounter with the legendary handballer Danny Bell (Canada) in the semi-finals. The opening game proved an intriguing encounter with Paddy pushing the Canadian all the way before eventually succumbing 21-10. The second game was a more one-sided affair with Bell progressing on a scoreline of 21-10 21-3. This lost meant that Laois’ hopes of World Handball Championship success now rested in the doubles competitions.
Tómas and Michael gave a signal of their intent with a resounding 21-12 21-14 victory over the strong partnership of John and Kenneth O’Neill (Cork) in their opening game of the Men’s C doubles. After receiving a forfeit in the quarter-final they then faced Steven O’Neill (Antrim) and Kevin Rossiter (Carlow) in the semi-final. The two Laois handballers were to produce a dazzling display with an array of high quality kill shots, passing shots and thunderous serves that left their bewildered opponents well beaten. The two lads impressively closed out the game to record a 21-9 21-6 victory and set up an eagerly anticipated Men’s C World Handball Championships Doubles Final against the partnership of Noel Holohan (Wexford) and Dan Breen (Kilkenny).
In an exhilarating contest where the momentum swung back and forth on several occasions, it was the Laois’ handballers greater determination, skill and athleticism that eventually proved the decisive factor. After claiming a tension-filled opening game 21-18, Tómas and Michael made an explosive start to the second game and from there never relinquished the lead, claiming the Men’s C World Handball Doubles Title to rapturous applause from the large crowd in attendance. This was a magnificent and well deserved achievement by two truly outstanding handballers who dedicated themselves to their training in the months leading up to these championships and are now reaping the rewards of their efforts.
Laois handball was optimistic of further world titles when Paddy Donovan teamed up with Tómas Donegan of Limerick to compete in both the Men’s 45+ Doubles and Men’s B Doubles. Their opening Men’s B game involved them in a thrilling quarter-final encounter with Cormac McMahon and Darryl Dolan (Cavan) that was eventually decided on the very last ace. After losing the first game 15-21, Paddy and Tómas produced a spirited comeback to win the second convincingly 21-3. The tie-breaker ebbed and flowed, but it was Paddy and Tómas that progressed by the narrowest margin 11-10. In the semi-final, Paddy and Tómas showed huge grit in edging a tight opening game against Robert Fox (Meath) and Jonathan Walsh (Tipperary) 21-17. With the momentum firmly behind them, they kicked on to win the second game 21-7 and book their place in the Men’s B Doubles Final.
Remarkably, the two handballers were to qualify for a second world final soon after by defeating Kieran Noonan (Cork) and Niall Kerr (Tyrone) in the Men’s 45+ semi-final. After taking the opening game 21-8 they had to withstand a hugely committed and spirited display by Noonan and Kerr in the second to shade it 21-20. This set up an intriguing final against the American’s John Stoffel and Michael Wells.
Paddy and Tómas were to dominate the early proceedings with some clever handball and clinical play. Having established a commanding 15-6 lead and in full control of the final, disaster was to strike when Tómas Donegan picked up a serious leg injury. Despite being in severe discomfort, Tómas refused to throw in the towel and continued playing. However, with his movement badly hindered, it gave the American’s the impetus to stage a comeback and they took the opening game 21-19. The second game also went the way of the American’s 21-15, but huge credit must be given to Paddy and Tómas as they battled bravely throughout and never gave up on winning the Men’s 45+ World Championship.
The extent of Tómas’ injury resulted in the pairing having to also concede the Men’s B title to Michael Morgan and Vincent Maling (USA). It was a disappointing end to the championships for Paddy and Tómas who seemed on course to complete a truly remarkable double before injury cruelly intervened. Despite not winning world gold, two silver medals at the World Handball Championships is still a marvellous achievement by Paddy Donovan and adds to the fantastic gold his son claimed in the Men’s C with playing partner Tómas Lennon. These successes add to the growing list of achievements by Laois handballers in recent years and is further testament to the great work being done by Ballacolla, Cullohill and Monavea Handball Clubs to raise the profile of the game within the county.