CARRICKMORE’S Clodagh Munroe has emerged as the county’s latest national handball champion after she captured the girls 13 and under singles title at the Irish junior nationals event in Galway last weekend.
Tyrone had high hopes of victory in a number of categories before the massive weekend of handball got underway but in the end there was to be no repeat of last year’s historic four-timer and it all came down to the young Carrickmore star to ensure the county featured on the final roll of honour for the 2017 nationals.
Sean Kerr, Eilise McCrory and Lorcan McBride all reached major finals in their respective age groups and were fancied to enhance Tyrone’s title tally as Sunday’s action unfolded but all three came up against inspired opponents who were in top form, leaving Tyrone with three runners-up prizes to add to the solitary winner’s trophy.
Clodagh Munroe had claimed the She’s Ace national trophy back in January but subsequently missed out on All-Ireland championship glory in March, so the Irish nationals was her big chance to bounce back and she grasped the opportunity to finish her 40×20 season on the highest possible note.
Following her quarter-final win over Clare’s Ellen Casey (15-11, 15-8) on Saturday afternoon, Clodagh then faced a rematch of her All-Ireland under-14 semi-final against Chloe Philpott and she delivered another great performance to claim a smooth 15-5, 15-10 win over the Munster under-14 champion.
After repeating her All-Ireland semi-final victory on Saturday evening, Clodagh then had to somehow try and reverse her All-Ireland final result in the nationals decider on Sunday against Mayo’s Hazel Finn.
Clodagh appeared to have a really tough task on her hands because when the same two players had met back in March, the Connacht champion registered a 15-8, 15-9 in Kingscourt to become All-Ireland under-14 singles champion.
But the young Carrickmore star felt disappointed that she hadn’t done herself justice in the All-Ireland decider and she responded to the challenge in brilliant style to gain revenge.
Clodagh’s whole game was at a higher level on Sunday and she was so determined that she was not going to be stopped in her quest for national glory.
She produced some of the best handball of her career to clinch the title, hitting a series of superb kill shots and clever passing shots to completely turn around the All-Ireland final result.
Clodagh won the opening game really impressively on a 15-10 scoreline and even when she fell five points behind in the second game, she remained totally composed and raised her game once again to secure a 15-12 win, earning her the biggest triumph of her handball career to date.
It was also historic in that it was the first time a Carrickmore player has collected a major girl’s singles title at the Irish nationals event. It’s also the second time this title has come to Tyrone, with Clodagh following in the footsteps of Mairead Fox who was victorious twelve months ago.
While Clodagh was overturning her All-Ireland final result on Sunday, her clubmate Lorcan McBride was striving to uphold his All-Ireland final form when he took on Josh Kavanagh in the boys 15 and under final on Sunday evening, but once again the result was reversed as the talented Wexford lad produced something special to deny the All-Ireland under-16 singles champion in a high quality contest.
Kavanagh put on a wonderful attacking display for a 14 year old and hit some breathtaking killshots to win the first game 15-11.
Lorcan looked like he was starting to take control when he asserted himself early in the second game and he was showing his class as he raced into a 9-1 lead. But his younger opponent was undaunted and somehow fought his way back to record a stunning 15-11 win.
Sean Kerr was fancied to add to his personal roll of honour when he made it through to the 19 and under boys final against Galway’s Diarmuid Mulkerrins, and last year’s 17 and under champion appeared to be well on course for another national title win when he cruised to victory in the opening game, winning 15-5.
But the recent All-Ireland intermediate doubles champion found himself on the back foot for much of the second game as the local Moycullen lad upped his game.
Mulkerrins really began to click as he went into a 12-7 lead but it then appeared that the Breacach star, Tyrone’s most successful ever underage player, was getting back on top when he hit five aces in a row to draw level at 12 points each, only for Mulkerrins to hit back again with three unanswered aces to force a tiebreaker.
The Galway player was now growing in confidence and was hitting top form, and Sean was finding it harder to stamp his class on the proceedings. The match began to slip away from the Tyrone player and he was unable to prevent a home victory in the tiebreaker.
Breacach had finalists in both the boys and girls 19 and under finals, with Eilise McCrory hoping to add to her recent All-Ireland junior singles success when she took on All-Ireland intermediate winner Fiona Tully.
Eilise gave as good as she got for much of the game but ultimately she was hampered by recent injuries which have prevented her from training since the All-Ireland championships ended.
The Roscommon girl just about shaded the exchanges and denied Tyrone a second girls title success of the weekend.
Apart from the four Tyrone finalists, the county also competed strongly in other grades over the weekend, including the girls 15 and under grade where Loughmacrory clubmates Caitlin Conway and Mairead Fox both reached the semi-final stage before losing to Kildare’s Mollie Dagg and Galway’s Niamh Heffernan.
Gary McAleer produced some brilliant form to reach the last four of the boys 13 and under B competition, winning his first two games really impressively and going so close to making the final despite his young age. Eoin McElholm and Conor Owens both bowed out at the quarter-final stage of the same event, which had initially started out with 58 players.
Overall, it may not have been the most successful junior event ever from a Tyrone perspective, considering the record breaking four grade A titles won last year, but the county’s representatives competed very admirably against the cream of juvenile handball in Ireland and the success of Clodagh Munroe made sure that Tyrone was among the counties that featured on the final winners list, with Wexford, Galway and Kilkenny leading the final table.
2017 GAA Handball Irish Junior 40×20 Nationals Finals results…
G13&U Clodagh Munroe (Tyrone) beat Hazel Finn (Mayo) 15-10, 15-12
G13&UB Jodie Keeling (Wexford) beat Amy McKeogh (Tipperary) 15-12, 15-13
G15&U Niamh Hefferan (Galway) beat Mollie Dagg (Kildare) 15-8, 13-15, 11-10
G15&UB Louise McGinnity (Monaghan) beat Sarah O’Malley (Cork) 15-4, 15-3
G17&U Megan McCann (Armagh) beat Mary Ellen Phelan (Kilkenny) 15-2, 15-0
G17&UB Aoife Hurley (Cork) beat Kelly Curran (Galway) 15-5, 15-9
G19&U Fiona Tully (Roscommon) beat Eilise McCrory (Tyrone) 15-12, 15-10
B13&U Mark Doyle (Wexford) beat Kyle Jordan (Kilkenny) 15-3, 15-8
B13&UB John Doheny (Kilkenny) beat Kaelan Murphy (Cork) 15-9, 13-15, 11-5
B15&U Josh Kavanagh (Wexford) beat Lorcan McBride (Tyrone) 15-11, 15-11
B15&UB Colin Healy (Cork) beat Labhras Hession (Galway) 15-5, 15-1
B17&U Eoin Brennan (Kilkenny) beat Cian O’Driscoll (Cork) 15-9, 15-9
B17&UB Conor Ownes (Cavan) beat Adam Crosbie (Cavan) 15-8, 15-10
B19&U Diarmuid Mulkerrins (Galway) beat Sean Kerr (Tyrone) 5-15, 15-12, 11-5