Another huge weekend of one wall handball was staged at the Loughmacrorry GAA Handball One Wall Arena over the weekend as the club played host to the annual Ulster GAA Handball Wallball Championships for the third year running.
Over 130 players from seven counties across the province contested a total of 16 championship grades on Saturday and Sunday and at the end of the 148 match programme, there were 16 Ulster Champions for 2016 announced.
Significantly this year’s winners will now also get the chance to compete for All Ireland glory in their grade with this season’s event now going on to the GAA Handball All Ireland Championship stage for the first time.
Topping the headlines for the second year running were Tyrone GAA Handball’s Conor McElduff and Down’s Lorraine Havern. The duo were once again most impressive in claiming the Mens Open Senior and Ladies Open Senior singles Championship titles respectively. Overall though it was the Red Hand County who again dominated, coming away with two thirds of the major titles on offer, claiming ten Ulster title wins from the fifteen finals.
Tyrone GAA Handball star, Conor McElduff, may well finish 2016 with a “perfect season” if his latest exploits on the court are anything to go by! He blitzed everyone in the Tyrone GAA handball 40×20 leagues and championships to complete a clean sweep of honours in Senior handball in the county and added Ulster and All Ireland Intermediate Singles and Doubles Championship success in the small court. Straight into the one wall he has taken the top Open honours in Mallow in Cork and now claimed gold in the Ulster Mens Open Singles championship at the weekend’s Wallball Championships in Loughmacrory.
Indeed for the host club, Loughmacrory, it proved to be their most successful ever event as the club secured five titles in all, having contested a total of nine Ulster finals on Sunday afternoon. Carrickmore club again showed great form and pitched in with three provincial title wins and Breacach club secured two title wins, albeit claiming the blur ribband gold of the entire series with that Mens Open Championship success.
On reflection it is Conor McElduff who really continues to lead the headlines in the One Wall (now known as wallball) code of GAA Handball. The brilliant back to back Mens Open National champion was adding his second Ulster Senior title win in what has so far been a truly remarkable campaign and also significantly maintains his supremacy in the sport.
The Breacach star, who was a very impressive winner of the Mallow National Club Tournament one week earlier, defeating Cork’s Tadhg O’Neill in the Mens Open final, was in top class form on Sunday and he had to be to deny both Armagh’s Conall McCavitt and Tyrone’s Darragh Daly. That semi final with reputable one wall exponent, McCavitt, was one of the games of the day and it was finely balance all through until 18-18. McElduff broke then with some superbly placed kill and lob deliveries to run out winner by 25-20. The second semi final also proved a close call for much of the way between Darragh Daly and Down’s Sean Digney. Daly broke midway through the tie though to book his first Ulster final appearance with a 25-21 victory.
The final saw McElduff storm very fast out of the blocks with sensational power serving, pass, lob and kill shots all exhibited in his repertoire of skills as the Carrickmore player rallied to try and stay in the game. McElduff actually led 13-0 at a stage in that final before Daly made a spirited comeback to close the opening game to 15-5. The second game was very close or much of the way and the duo remained deadlocked at 10-10, with daly showing terrific speed at front court with his retrieving keeping every rally very tight. McElduff hit three brilliant winning points in succession then to move 13-11 ahead and he maintained that push for the last number of rallies to take the honours again with a 15-11 win in the second.
Both players look set to be going into the Mens Open Nationals in Breaffy Sports Arena, Castlebar, in just over three weeks at the top of their game and it would certainly at this stage be difficult to back against Conor McElduff sustaining an incredible two year unbeaten run in his bid to claim an unprecedented three-in-a-row of Mens Open National titles at the venue on 3rd July.
Down’s Lorraine Havern will also go back to the One Wall Nationals very much at the very top of her game. Havern looks to be playing stronger than ever as she defeated Tyrone’s Maeve McElduff 25-6 to win the Ladies Open Singles championship title in Loughmacrory on Sunday. The Saval GAA Club player produced brilliant serving and angled offensive play in her game and looks a massive contender again in her challenge to win back the National Ladies Open singles crown in Castlebar.
Overall there was some superb on court action over the weekend and a few finals that really stood out as frenetic and thrilling tussles which had the large crowds engrossed.
The closest final of the day was served up in the Girls Under 15 Singles Championship final as the Loughmacrory club colleagues, Caitlin Conway and Mairead Fox, who had defeated the Armagh pairing of Caoiliosa Ní Dhuill and Dearbhla Coleman respectively in the semi finals, served up an absolute thriller. That match went right to the wire as both young players produced outstanding serving, retrieving, passing and shooting in front court to keep the packed crowd engrossed before Caitlin Conway claimed the honours 25-24. Conway was adding a second excellent title win in the space of a week having defeated Mollie Dagg and Kildare’s Leah Doyle to collect in the Mallow National Club Tournament at this level one week earlier.
The Under 15 grade in boys and girls provided a clean sweep of titles for the Loughmacrory club as the Boys Under 15 final must also rank os one of the matches of the weekend. Loughmacrory’s Dara Curran produced his best handball in the championship arena when he defeated last year’s Ulster champion, Carricmore’s Cahir Munroe, by 25-9 in the first semi final and he was joined in the final by Carrickmore’s power-house, Lorcan McBride, who was an emphatic 25-10 winner against Monaghan’s Eoghan McGinnity. The final looked set or a McBride triumph for much of the way as he led by 11-4 and 18-13 at stages but Curran’s form in the closing stages were excellent and he produced a series of top class pass and kill shots to take control and eventually dig out a 25-23 victory in the end.
Loughmacrory Club actually completed a clean sweep of the Boys Junior titles from Under 13 to Under 17 on the Sunday. Zak Devine secured his first ever Ulster championship medal with a series of superb displays in the Boys Under 13 singles championship. Having denied Armagh’s Fiachra O Dhuill and number 1 seed, Jack Darcy, en route to the final he then delivered a most dominant display in the final to win by 25-14 against Monaghan’s talented young player, Sean Callan. The latter defeated Loughmacrory’s Eoin McElholm in a very entertaining semi final.
The host club’s Antoin Fox may well have been the most impressive winner of the weekend. He denied his club colleague, Shane Grimes, by 25-16 in the semi final and then served up a most polished final display of all-out attacking handball to emerge Ulster champion in the Boys Under 17 singles grade. His 25-5 win over Carrickmore’s Ciaran Cuddy would suggest he too will go forward to the All Ireland series as a very string contender for the top honours.
While Fox was highly impressive in the Boys Under 17 grade, Armagh’s Megan McCann was equally measured and convincing in her championship title win in the equivalent girls grade. McCann was a 25-7 winner of Loughmacrory’s Claire Conway in the semi final and then produced a blistering display of power and style to defeat her Clann Eireann colleague, Meabh mcCambridge, in the final by 25-6.
Carrickmore’s Clodagh Munroe continues to make her mark too in the underage ranks at the highest level. The very talented young player collected the Girls under 13 singles honours with a 25-17 victory over Loughmacrory’s Alanna McGaughey in the Ulster final, having earlier defeated Niamh Curran in the semi final stages.
There were two sibling doubles in the Ulster championships on the day too. Carrickmore’s Cormac Munroe followed up the provincial success of his sister when he produced fantastic handball to claim the Mens B Singles Championship honours. His 25-19 semi final win against Cavan’s Cormac McMahon saw some of the best rallies of the day and Munroe went on to take the honours with a 25-13 win over Loughmacrory’s Conor Duff in the championship decider.
Aideen Curran joined her brother Dara on the winners podium when she secured her first Ulster championship medal too. Wins over Alileen Havern, Bronagh Allison and a 25-21 final win against Down’s Annie Havern saw the Loughmacrory player take the Women’s C Championship title on Sunday and a fifth gold medal to her club.
A third ulster medal of the day was guaranteed for the Carrickmore club by the time the Mens A Singles Championship final came around as Paddy McCrory and Ryan Mullan negotiated their way through to contest the 2016 decider. It proved a terrific contest too and was evenly matched for much of the way but McCrory’s dynamic pace around court and power kill shots saw him take control at 15-15 and he pulled away to take the title on a 25-16 scoreline.
Donegal’s Avril McNamee was also winning her first Ulster Wallball Championship medal when denying Breacach’s Michelle Warren by 25-20 in the Women’s B Singles Championship final while Down’s Barrie mcCoy collected the Mens C Singles Championship crown with a 25-13 win over Tyrone’s Conor Keenan in the final of that competition.
Monaghan’s Gavin Coyle took the Boys Under 19 Singles championship title and Armagh’s Niamh Coleman was the Girls Under 19 Singles champion at the weekend.
At Masters level, Breacach’s Niall Kerr overcame Loughmacrory’s Finbarr Fullen in the Masters decider on a 25-9 scoreline while Monaghan’s Paul Cassidy denied Breacach’s Anthony McElduff by 25-23 in a hugely entertaining Golden Masters Final.
Mens Open Singles: Conor McElduff (Breacach, Tyrone) dft Darragh Daly (Carrickmore, Tyrone) 15-6, 15-11
Ladies Open Singles: Lorraine Havern (Saval, Down) dft Maeve McElduff (Breacach, Tyrone) 25-6
Mens A Singles: Paddy McCrory (Carrickmore, Tyrone) dft Ryan Mullan (Carrickmore, Tyrone) 25-16
Mens B Singles: Cormac Munroe (Carrickmore, Tyrone) dft Conor Duff (Loughmacrory, Tyrone) 25-13
Mens C Singles: Barrie McCoy (Saval, Down) dft Conor Keenan (Carrickmore, Tyrone) 25-13
Masters Singles: Niall Kerr (Breacach, Tyrone) dft Finbarr Fullen (Loughmacrory, Tyrone) 25-9
Golden Masters Singles: Paul Cassidy (Bawn, Monaghan) dft Anthony McElduff (Breacach, Tyrone) 25-23.
Women’s B Singles: Avril McNamee (Glenfinn, Donegal) dft Michelle Warren (Breacach, Tyrone) 25-20
Women’s C Singles: Aideen Curran (Loughmacrory, Tyrone) dft Annie Havern (Saval, Down) 25-20
Boys U13 Singles: Zak Devine (Loughmacrory, Tyrone) dft Sean Callan (Harps, Monaghan) 25-14
Boys U15 Singles: Dara Curran (Loughmacrory, Tyrone) dft Lorcan McBride (Carrickmore, Tyrone) 25-23
Boys U17 Singles: Antoin Fox (Loughmacrory, Tyrone) dft Ciaran Cuddy (Carrickmore, Tyrone) 25-5
Boys U19 Singles: Gavin Coyle (Bawn, Monaghan)
Girls U13 Singles: Clodagh Munroe (Carrickmore, Tyrone) dft Alanna McGaughey (Loughmacrory, Tyrone) 25-17
Girls U15 Singles: Caitlin Conway (Loughmacrory, Tyrone) dft Mairead Fox (Loughmacrory, Tyrone) 25-24
Girls U17 Singles: Megan McCann (Clann Eireann, Armagh) dft Meabh McCambridge (Clann Eireann, Armagh) 25-6
Girls U19 Singles: Niamh Coleman (Clann Eireann, Armagh)
Full Picture Gallery from the Ulster GAA Handball Wallball Championships 2016 is below…