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It was a good week for Ballaghaderreen handballer Dessie Keegan who partnered Joe McCann to reach the last four of the all-Ireland senior doubles championship with a comfortable 21-8, 21-7 victory over Munster’s only challengers, C J Fitzpatrick and Paul Hedderman of Limerick.
On a particularly busy weekend for handball with the first series of all-Ireland adult and juvenile finals, the overall picture was one of great joy for many of Mayo’s contenders although there were some disappointments also.
It was a busy and hugely successful week for both Mayo men’s and ladies’ senior doubles handballers. Last Friday evening at Mullingar Dessie Keegan and Joe McCann defeated Kilkenny duo Nicholas and Ger Anthony 21-14, 21-17. Two days later they made the trip to the same venue to take one the 2009 All-Ireland senior doubles champions and the duo that denied them a first title, Eoin Kennedy and Egin Jensen, in the quarter-finals. The Ballaghaderreen club men put in one of their finest performances to date to secure the semi-final spot in a somewhat one-sided contest. The Mayo duo won the opener 21 aces to 4, a scoreline few would have believed possible a year or two ago, and they led 9 aces to 1 in the second. Kennedy and Jensen did mount a spirited comeback but it was short lived as Keegan and a rejuvenated McCann closed out this game on a 21 aces to 14 scoreline. While the result was by no means a shock, beating the senior doubles champions of two years ago still ranks a fine scalp. However if that result surprised some it was nothing in comparison to the second quarter-final which saw reigning All-Ireland champions, Meath duo Tom Sheridan and Brian Carroll, dumped out of the championship by the hugely impressive Paul Brady and Michael Finnegan of Cavan in a thrilling contest on a 21-14, 21-15 scoreline. Keegan and McCann now meet the Cavan men in the semi-final in three weeks’ time. Next up for Keegan is a singles quarter-final meeting with Ducksy Walsh at Abbeylara this Saturday at 2pm, and judging by his current form the Mayo man would be expected to progress.
While there was plenty of local activity with the first series of provincial finals and juvenile semi-finals occupying ball players over the weekend, many miles away in Arizona Pauline Gallagher and Stephanie Coleman, among others, were making the headlines.
The good news story of the week came by way of Ballinrobe handballer Frank Macken, who finally got his hands on a richly deserved All-Ireland medal. Williamstown on Saturday afternoon last was the setting for Frank’s finest hour as he and a fine attendance settled in for the All-Ireland golden masters B singles final against the well-regarded Pat Donnellan for Clare. Macken started well and was never really troubled in the opening game and he secured this one impressively 21 aces to 12. The second was a much tougher affair as Donnellan began to find his feet and the Clare man was making life difficult for the Galway based garda. Macken trailed for much of the game but his superior fitness and determination saw him take the lead at 17 aces to 16 although this on went down to the wire, as a relieved Macken added the second on a 21 aces to 17 scoreline. The win was well deserved and hard-earned but the hours of work put in yielded the desired result on the day. Macken has a decent chance of a second title this weekend as he teams up with Claremorris native Aidan Bell in the doubles final against Donnellan and Stephen McInerney once again at Williamstown this Saturday from 3pm.
The next series of All-Ireland finals gets under way at a number of venues this weekend. Amy Corrigan teams up with Newport’s Leona Ryder as they bid for the ladies’ minor doubles title when they take on Cork duo Catriona Casey and Lisa Aisling as the third match at Thurles this Saturday. The opening match is the Connacht v Leinster girls inter provincial team of 10 tie which has an 11.30am start. Much of the defending champions Connacht team is made of up Roscommon and Galway youngsters with Mayo’s Jennifer Fahy playing an important part in the province’s bid to retain the trophy. The winners meet a strong Munster side in the final the same afternoon at Thurles.
The hugely successful Irish one-wall Nationals championships which concluded at the Breaffy House Resort on Sunday evening, yielded two hard-earned titles and one near miss for Mayo’s handballers. Following his final defeat last year, Aughagower’s Shane Heraty was the top seed in the 40 strong field for the Men’s C singles event. True to form Heraty won his opening match on Friday and added two more Saturday victories to reach Sunday morning semi-finals. Success in the encounter set up an afternoon showdown with Kilkenny’s Ciaran Neary. In a thrilling decider played in a single timed match Heraty kept his head and playing some brilliant handball he landed the title on a narrow 19 aces to 15 scoreline. Mayo were guaranteed the girls’ under 18 singles title after both Amy Corrigan and Leona Ryder reached the final. Corrigan defeated fellow Mayo ace Ciara McMenamon in her semi-final, while Leona Ryder pulled off one of the shocks of the weekend when she defeated the fancied Catriona Casey of Cork and Aoife McCarthy from Westmeath in the tough bottom section of the draw. It was also an excellent and sporting final with the Newport youngster prevailing over her four-wall doubles partner on an 18 aces to 16 scoreline.
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.
Dessie Keegan and Joe McCann’s dream of a successful defence of their All-Ireland senior doubles crown last year remains a reality, but only just. The champions emerged from Moycullen with the required semi-final victory over young pretenders Seamus O’Carroll and C J Fitzpatrick of Limerick, but the win had more to do with the Munster men’s failure to finish off the match in the second game. The Limerick duo were in devastating form in the opening game as Keegan and McCann never found any kind of form and they ran out easy winners on a 21 aces to 13 scoreline. For much of the second things were even better for the Limerick pair, who built up a commanding 13 aces to three scoreline, thanks in no small part to the outstanding performance of Seamus O’Carroll on the left side. Just when it looked that the Limerick pair were going to finish off the contest, Keegan and McCann finally got a few breaks and made a real match of it. Keegan in particular really started to impose himself on the contest while McCann was always alive to any danger down the right. The Mayo duo forged ahead and took the second on a 21 aces to 16 scoreline. The loss of the second game effectively signalled the end of the courageous Limerick challenge and to their credit Keegan and McCann made the most of the chances they got and they dominated the deciding third, winning it easily in the end.
Mayo’s handball supporters will be out in force this weekend as the county features in all three matches on an excellent Moycullen card this Saturday from 3pm. Dessie Keegan and Joe McCann bid to reach their second successive All-Ireland senior doubles final when they take on Limerick duo Seamus O’Carroll and C J Fitzpatrick in the semi-final at the Galway venue. The Mayo pair have every reason to feel confident of a favourable result against the intermediate duo. Amy Corrigan gets matters under way as she takes on the impressive Catriona Casey of Cork in the girls’ minor singles final. Corrigan will have it all to do against the ever improving Casey but the Ballaghaderreen youngster has the edge in terms of experience. Stephen Cooney and Ian McLoughlin bid to follow up their great minor doubles success of last year when they take on Tadhg Carroll and John O’Keeffe of Cork in the under 21 doubles final, and on the evidence of their great record to date the pair should be celebrating another title.