Laois capture All-Ireland Titles
Laois capture All-Ireland Titles
The 40×20 singles handball championships reached their climax at the weekend with three Laois players in All-Ireland final action. There was huge optimism within the county that Niamh Dunne, Paddy Donovan and Michael Donovan could capture All-Ireland titles in their respective grades considering the scintillating form each player had shown throughout the championships.
First into action was Niamh Dunne (Cullohill) who faced Linda Connolly of Roscommon in the Ladies Junior B Final. Niamh was considered by many as a strong favourite at the beginning of year to capture this title and she lived up to these expectations with a breathtaking performance of both power and skill. In Linda Connolly, Niamh faced a dangerous opponent who had been hugely impressive in her semi-final when disposing of Síobhan Lehane of Limerick in two straight games.
The first game was a fantastic advertisement for all that is good in ladies handball at present. There was little to separate the two players with every ace hard won. Niamh has been involved in some epic battles over the last few years and the experience gained from these games was to stand to her when she showed great composure to withstand a very strong challenge from her opponent in the latter stages of the first game. Niamh’s strong serving and ability to kill the ball proved the difference in helping her take the first game 21-16.
In the second game Niamh produced some of her finest handball to date. Her ability to control the centre of the alley was paying rich dividends and Niamh soon built up a commanding lead. Credit must be given to the Roscommon handballer as she never threw in the towel but she was not to deny Niamh a well-deserved All-Ireland title on a score line of 21-16 21-11. This was a fantastic achievement by Niamh who now adds the Ladies Junior B 40×20 singles title to the Ladies Junior B 60×30 singles title that she won last year.
Michael Donovan (Monavea) was hoping to match the exploits of Niamh Dunne when he faced Daniel Relihan of Cork in the Men’s Junior B All-Ireland Final. In qualifying for the final, Michael had given a masterclass in handball to defeat Conor Flynn of Antrim 21-4 21-5. Hopes were high that Michael could replicate this form against a very talented and highly rated opponent in the final.
The first game was to live up to the hype with both players producing an array of mesmerizing shots that had a pack gallery glued to the action. Michael was matching his opponent score for score and his ability to kill the ball with both hands was clearly causing Relihan problems. Considering how evenly matched both players were it was becoming apparent that the first game was going to prove pivotal in determining the outcome of the final. Unfortunately, the luck wasn’t with Michael on this occasion and the Cork handballer edged a thrilling first game 21-18.
Losing such a tight first game seemed to knock the wind from Michael’s sails and he was to make a slow start to the second game. His opponent, with the momentum firmly be hind him, was relentless and seized the opportunity afforded to him to build up a sizeable lead. Michael continued to battle but Relihan was in the ascendancy and deservedly went on to win the Men’s Junior B All-Ireland title on a score line of 21-18 21-6.
Laois had one final hope of All-Ireland success when Paddy Donovan (Monavea) faced Joe Dowling of Mayo in the Men’s Golden Masters Final. Paddy progressed to the final having overcome Antrim’s Donal Armstrong 21-12 13-21 21-18 in a three game thriller. Similarly, Joe was also involved in an epic battle in his semi-final where he defeated Joe Herlihy of Cork on a score line of 21-20 13-21 21-18.
Considering the quality on offer in the semi-finals, many were expecting the final to be a compelling affair between two of the best exponents of the game of handball. Those expectations were to be realised with another three game thriller needed to decide the destination of the Golden Master title. The first game was to go the way of the Mayo handballer on a score line of 18-21. Paddy then showed all his experience, guile and quality to stage a comeback and take the second game 21-14, bringing the final to a deciding game.
Paddy began the tie-breaker in determined fashion taking control of the centre of the court. His ability to serve the ball hard and low with spin was bringing success and he built up a commanding 13-8 lead. Dowling was now struggling to keep with his Laois opponent and Paddy stretched further ahead by winning the next 6 aces. With the Mayo man wilting, Paddy continued to press home his advantage and with some excellent kill shots he captured a much coveted Golden Masters All-Ireland title on a score line of 18-21 21-14 21-12.
All-Ireland 40×20 Singles Finals
Ballinahinch, Co. Tipperary:
Ladies Junior B Final: Niamh Dunne defeated Linda Connolly (Roscommon) 21-16 21-11
Men’s Junior B Final: Michael Donovan lost to Daniel Relihan (Cork) 18-21 6-21
Men’s Golden Masters Final: Paddy Donovan defeated Joe Dowling (Mayo) 18-21 21-14 21-12