Martin Mulkerrins is a very un-assuming young man, but one with lots of skill in his hands.
The Moycullen youngster has just completed his transition year at St Mary’s college, Galway and last March he hit the headlines after he was crowned the All-Ireland Singles champion at U-16 level in handball up in Kingscourt, Co. Cavan.
In doing so Martin became only the third Galway player to win the U16 Juvenile All-Ireland Singles handball title following in the footsteps of Noel McHugh from Williamstown in 1999 and Fintan O’ Curraoin from Micheal Breathnach’s in 2008.
When I caught up with him last Sunday night he was just after returning from the Paddy Grogan invitational tournament in Carrickmore in Co. Tyrone which had gone on for the previous two days. He had been asked to compete at minor level, even though he is only 16 years of age, and his team were narrowly beaten on aggregate in the final round.
Mulkerrins is only one of about 90 Juvenile members of the Maigh Cuilinn handball club who play in their modern 40 x 20 court beside the Maigh Cuilinn hurling and football pitches.
Indeed, such is the high standard of that facility which was opened in 2004 that it played host to the All Ireland senior final between Paul Brady and Tony Healy in 2005.
So for the uninitiated - we asked Martin Mulkerrins what does it take to be a top handball player?
“Skill. Two good hands. And excellent hand to eye co-ordination are key elements, while you need to be fairly fit too.”- according to the All-Ireland champion who hopes to travel to Portland, in Oregon in the USA for the World championships next October.
To prove his point about fitness, it took over two hours of play for himself and Seamus Connelly to win the U-16 doubles all-Ireland final last year.
At the top level in handball a lot of games can be very close and this year’s final also went the distance before Martin got the upper hand after three tight contests 15-21, 21-16 and 11-6 in the tie-break .
The world championship is held every three years and Cavan’s Paul Brady is probably the best known Irish player in handball at this juncture. In fact handball is a semi-professional sport in the USA and the top players can play in and win tournaments where the prize money can be up to 50,000 dollars.
Mulkerrins is also a keen hurler and gaelic footballer and he is hopeful that he can go on and play at a high level in the senior ranks in the future.
“Every player in any sport has ambitions of playing at the highest level and I am no different. Not many players make it to the level of success that Paul Brady or Duxie Walsh have seen, however I would be hopeful of going on to be a good player at senior level in this country”.
Handball is part of the GAA stable of games and yet it receives very little recognition on TV or from the national media, so what was it that attracted Martin to the game in the first place?
“We have a very proud tradition of handball in Moycullen and we had a 60 x 30 court for years up in the village itself. That was closed down and it was when the new 40 x 20 court opened in 2004 that the interest was really renewed in the handball club in the area. My age-group have been fortunate to have some top class mentors like Morgan Darcy, Nicky-John Clancy, Tony Audley, Martin and Eamonn Connelly to teach us the skills of the game and drive us on and I have been all over Ireland playing handball which has been great fun”.
His father Brian Mulkerrins, has been his son’s transport manager over the past few years and he confirms the distances that have been surmounted in the quest for progress and all-ireland glory.
“We have been in the four corners of Ireland a few times for games and tournaments over the past few years. From Carlow, Wicklow, Omagh, Cork, Cavan, Kilkenny, Dublin, Belfast and Newport to name just a few. While it is hard going, it can be great fun and when you see some success and progress, it is well-worth the effort”.
“The lads make a lot of friends and it is a great opportunity to meet people from all over the country”.
As a parent, what else could you ask for?