Dessie Keegan and Joe McCann’s hopes of back to back all-Ireland senior 40x20 doubles titles came unstuck in the feature event at a packed St Coman’s on Saturday evening last as the duo were comprehensively defeated by the superior Cavan pairing of Paul Brady and Michael Finnegan.
The opening exchanges were keenly contested but from the off it was Paul Brady who set the standard and the three time world champion showed every ounce of his skill and experience, killing the ball stone dead with great precision at every available opportunity. Cavan built up a 7-0 lead and although the score line did not reflect it, the rallies were very even with points decided on the smallest margins. Keegan was matching Brady in general play, not allowing him to dominate the court while McCann made Cavan work for every point, pulling off some stunning picks and gets near the front wall. Mayo then took advantage of a slight dip in Cavan’s form, recovering to level the match at 10-10. However this level of play was difficult to maintain. Brady and Finnegan used their experience to manoeuvre rallies in their favour and closed out the first game reasonably comfortably in the end on a 21 aces to 11 scoreline.
In the second game Keegan and McCann could so easily have capitulated under the weight of expectation, but showed they were made of sterner stuff. A good reflection of the step up in quality of play and determination to win is that this game was over twice as long as the first. Nearly every rally had a touch of the epic, exceeding 15 shots in most cases. Both Mayo players were desperate to push the game to a tiebreaker third, putting their bodies on the line on numerous occasions to keep rallies alive and rescue seeming lost causes.
The pair were surging forward and led 13-11 when the alley floor became wet and required a lengthy break. This somehow stunted the Mayo progression and allowed Brady to rediscover the scintillating form of the first game. The Cavan duo closed out a hard fought encounter 21-13 and were hailed as worthy winners on the day although the score line truly did not reflect the Mayo effort.
Mayo handballers were involved in a number of all-Ireland finals on Sunday and a good attendance made their way to Moycullen for a great three match programme that opened with the ladies’ minor doubles final which featured Amy Corrigan and Leona Ryder against Cork duo, Catriona Casey and Aisling O’Keeffe. This was a disappointing affair from a Mayo point of view with neither Corrigan or Ryder making any real impact in a match that Cork dominated from the off. The first game fell to Casey and O’Keeffe 21 aces to 8 and they added the second for the loss of just six further aces. Westmeath won an all too rare ladies title when Aoife McCarthy and Niamh Egan defeated Clare’s Aisling Fitzgerald and Edel O’Grady in three games at the same venue.
There was one good bit of news for Mayo handball on a weekend of woe however as Ballaghaderreen duo, Joe Dowling and James Towey secured a famous victory over Antrim pair Kieran O’Hare and Tony Delvin in the All-Ireland masters B doubles final at Abbeylara on Sunday afternoon last. Dowling and Towey put in a courageous display to come back from 13 aces to 20 down in the opening game to clinch it by a solitary ace 21-20. They took the second more impressively 21 aces to 10 to seal the win. Mayo’s Daniel O’Hara and Brendan Judge won the provincial boys U17 B doubles title in a deferred final at Williamstown on Friday night, beating Galway challengers Eanna McDonagh and Martin Walsh comfortably in two games on a 21-8, 21-5 scoreline. While last weekend saw the completion of the 40x20 championship the Irish nationals hosted at Ulster venues takes centre stage next weekend. Dessie Keegan, Vincent Moran and Stephen Cooney are all entered in the feature event the men’s open singles while Ciaran Burke and Ian McLoughlin line out in the newly introduced men’s under 23 singles at Carrickmore and Loughmacrory. Kevin Geraghty makes a return trip to Belfast and is the top seed in the golden masters’ A singles, while Clodagh McMenamon and Leona Ryder have a good chance of faring well in the ladies B singles event at Saval and Newry.