The only place for real handball fans this weekend is to spend Saturday at Kingscourt handball club in Cavan where the 2018 O'Neills All-Ireland Singles Finals Festival takes place.
A feast of handball is guaranteed at the three court venue with a series of silverware up for grabs.
One highlight of the weekend is the meeting in the Men's Senior Singles Final of Armagh’s Charly Shanks against Martin Mulkerrins of Galway.
Speaking to handball.ie defending champion Shanks is all too aware of the threat posed by the Galwayman:
“Martin is a very strong, very talented player. He plays a very high tempo game so he’s going to put his foot on the pedal and he’s going to go hard. He has a great serve with hook, he can flatten the ball from anywhere in the court and he does it with such power and strength. He’s a complete player.”
Charly knows himself that playing the champion is extra grounds for motivation for the challenger having tilted at Cavan's Paul Brady on a number of occasions before finally making hiss breakthrough to win the All Ireland last year.
In a fascinating discussion with Declan Bogue in the Belfast Telegraph, Shanks described his journey through the ranks of handball to the stage where he eventually realised he was good enough and fit enough to thrive. His win last year against Robbie McCarthy shocked a few but Shanks felt he was well capable and he is looking forward to this weekend: “I’m not thinking about that, I just want to win another one. That’s why I’m there. I feel like I’ve prepared well enough to win on the day.”
First time finalist Mulkerrins added that “to play in the men’s senior final is every young handballer’s dream I’d say, it definitely was mine!”
Shanks, a software developer by trade, fixed some bugs before last year’s final. He has admitted before that had he lost again to McCarthy, he probably would have hung up the gloves. That he didn’t – and delivered such a revelatory performance in ousting the holder – spoke volumes for his persistence and ability to think his way around whatever glitches stopped him closing the show in other years.
As to what exactly changed, well, you’ll have to work that out for yourself. Shanks says,
“I’m not going to divulge any information... My prep was definitely different last year than previous years, there’s no doubt about that. I’m just going to prepare like I did last year for this one, whether that has a say in the result or not, who knows, but it will hopefully have me playing as well as I can play.”
St Patrick’s Days proceedings begin a three day bonanza of Handball with all Adult and Juvenile grades being played to conclusion, as well as the elite Men's and Ladies Senior Finals.
Cormac Farrell, from O'Neills, spoke highly of our collaboration with GAA Handball:
"On behalf of O’Neills Irish International Sports Company, we are delighted to be involved with GAA Handball. Over the years we have seen a huge growth in the sport and the professionalism with which it is run. The people involved are great and very easy to work with.”
"It makes sense form an O’Neills perspective and from our brand’s perspective to be involved with GAA Handball as our customer is the GAA customer – and an Irish customer. Our brand travels well around the world like GAA Handball, so overall we are delighted to be involved and hope that the finals go off well on Saturday."
Elite Finals Fixtures:
Kingscourt, Co. Cavan
Saturday 17th March
Court 1 starts @ 3.30pm
MS Kilkenny (Eoin Brennan) v Clare (Tiernan Agnew)
LSS Cork (Catriona Casey) v Limerick (Martina McMahon)
MSS Armagh (Charly Shanks) v Galway (Martin Mulkerrins)
Court 2 starts @ 3.30pm
LMS Kildare (Leah Doyle) v Clare (Catriona Millane)
Court 1 starts @ 7.30pm
LIS Armagh (Megan McCann) v Clare (Ella Donnellan)
MBS Laois (Ray Fogarty) v Limerick (J P O’Connor)
Court 2 starts @ 7.30pm
EMBS Westmeath (Peter McCabe) v Limerick (Jimmy Fanning)
GMBS Westmeath (Mike Naughton) v Mayo (Johnny Coyne)
Court 3 starts @ 7.30pm
LJBS Kilkenny (Margaret Purcell) v Galway (Eimear Ní Bhiadha)
LJS Dublin or Kilkenny v Tipperary (Sinead Meagher)
Sunday 18th March
Court 1 starts @ 10am
EMAS Westmeath (Robbie McCarthy Snr.) v Cork (John Herlihy)
JS Wexford (Galen Riordan) v Kerry (Jack O’Shea)
U21S Monaghan (Gavin Coyle) v Cork (David Walsh)
MAS Antrim (Sean Devine) v Kerry (Dominick Lynch)
IS Offaly (David Hope) v Cork (Michael Hedigan)
Court 2 starts @ 10am
JBS Antrim (Mark Rainey) v Waterford (Kavan O’Keefe)
O35BS Antrim (Con Collins) v Clare (Pat Nolan)
SMAS Wexford (Tommy Hynes) v Clare (Fergal Coughlan)
DMAS Wexford (Michael Rossiter) v Tipperary (Billy Mullins)
O70S Wexford (Ned Buggy) v Tipperary (Jim Ryan)
Court 3 starts @ 10am
DMBS Down (Brian Havern) v Sligo (Michael Murphy)
SMBS Kildare (PJ McGrath) v Limerick (Pat Murphy)
GMAS Tyrone (Niall Kerr) v Limerick (Tomas Donegan)
RMS Carlow (John Rossiter) v Mayo (Martin Cronin)