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By tyronepro Sun 16th Oct


The last major handball championship finals of 2016 will take place in Loughmacrory this Sunday and it promises to be a huge occasion in the history of the local club as Tyrone gets set to challenge strongly for three of the most valuable national prizes in the ‘big alley’.
It’s a rare occurrence for the county’s only 60×30 arena to host the most prestigious juvenile fixtures of the season, but it was Ulster’s turn to play host to the finals this year and the sixteen underage title deciders have been split between Loughmacrory and Kingscourt, with Monaghan also getting one final.
In total there are seven attractive title clashes fixed for Loughmacrory and a packed gallery is guaranteed as top young players from Kilkenny, Cork, Galway, Kildare, Tipperary and Kerry arrive in search of All Ireland glory.
But all eyes locally will be on the Tyrone challenge which is led by Antoin Fox in the boys under-16 singles championship, the blue riband event of underage 60×30 handball.
Mairead Fox, Elizabeth McGarvey and Ciara Mullan will complete Tyrone’s bid for All Ireland honours in three categories when they attempt to win the girls under-14 singles and under-16 doubles titles.
Loughmacrory pair Dara Curran and Caitlin Conway came so close to joining their county colleagues in the national finals programme but were unfortunate to lose their All Ireland semi-finals narrowly to Roscommon and Galway two weeks ago down in Leitrim.
Antoin Fox will be attempting to do on Sunday what no Tyrone handballer has ever done before by winning the All Ireland 60×30 under-16 singles title and he will go into battle with Kerry’s Dara Keane as a slight favourite to take the gold medal.
Many great young players from Tyrone have tried to lift this title before but it has so far proved elusive and Antoin will be determined to follow in the footsteps of handball greats such as current All Ireland senior champion Robbie McCarthy, Eoin Kennedy and Ducksy Walsh who are among the standout names on the U16 singles roll of honour.
It would be especially poignant and emotional for Antoin if he could do what Ducksy Walsh achieved 34 years ago as the Kilkenny legend was Antoin’s coach until he suddenly passed away just over two months ago.
Antoin will be aiming on Sunday to go one step further than he did in the 40×20 championship where he lost a thrilling under-16 All-Ireland singles final to Clare’s Tiernan Agnew back in March, and his form since then has been sensational as he captured the 40×20 and one-wall nationals titles in April and July and then went to America to secure the U15 and U17 junior nationals titles.
Overall it has been a phenomenal campaign for the young Loughmacrory star and it would be a fitting way for his memorable year to end by claiming the biggest accolade in juvenile 60×30 handball, following his outstanding success in the other codes during 2016.
Antoin’sister Mairead Fox has also been enjoying an incredible year on the national stage and will be hoping to celebrate her 14th birthday on Sunday with another major success in the All-Ireland under-14 girls singles final.
Mairead’s historic achievements this year include four national singles titles and she will be attempting to complete the clean sweep at under-14 level across all three codes by seeing off the formidable challenge of Kilkenny’s Roisin O’Keefe in the opening fixture on Sunday’s programme at 11am.
The Leinster champion is a renowned 60×30 player and will be fancied by many to take the All Ireland title on Sunday but the young Tyrone star has risen to the challenge in national finals all year and can deliver another massive triumph, as she tries to emulate her clubmate Aoife Kelly, Tyrone’s only winner of this title to date back in 2011.
Aoife Kelly also teamed up back in 2012 with Breacach star Maeve McElduff to capture the girls All-Ireland under-16 doubles title and the task of trying to earn Tyrone their second title in this grade now rests on the shoulders of Carrickmore’s Ciara Mullan and her talented Breacach partner, Elizabeth McGarvey, who is already the proud holder of two All-Ireland 60×30 doubles titles at under-14 level.
Ciara and Elizabeth will go into battle as slight underdogs against the strong Kildare partnership of Leah Doyle and Mollie Dagg but the Tyrone pair are well capable of achieving a famous victory in Sunday’s final if they can produce their best form on the day.
Ciara went so close to under-16 doubles glory in the All-Ireland 40×20 doubles final back in March when she just lost out to Clare when playing alongside Caitlin Conway, and she will determined to go one step further this time, while Elizabeth will be keen to record a unique treble of All-Ireland juvenile doubles titles in as many years in the 60×30 court.
But no joy for Tyrone in minor or under-21 finals…
There was to be no title success for the Tyrone minor doubles pairing of Sean Kerr and Turlough Clarke in an exciting climax to the All-Ireland 60×30 adult championships at a packed Croke Park arena last Saturday night, the Breacach lads succumbing to Wexford, which means the big alley season ends with just one adult title for Tyrone courtesy of Conor Kerr.
The Breacach veteran produced an impressive All-Ireland semi-final win over Mayo a month ago and then followed that up with a brilliant victory over Kildare’s Brendan Higginbotham to secure the All-Ireland golden masters b singles title at the Na Fianna club in Dublin.
Conor has been enjoying an outstanding couple of seasons, having won the very same title in the 40×20 court two seasons ago as well, and the crafty Breacach player will be delighted with his latest victory over the Irish army man from Ballymore Eustace.
Apart from Conor’s outstanding win, Tyrone came closest to further All-Ireland success in the 60×30 court through Carrickmore’s Ryan Mullan who produced some of the best handball of his career to get so close to glory at under-21 level, reaching both the singles and doubles finals before losing out at the final hurdle in both competitions.
Ryan registered his best result of the season in the All Ireland under-21 singles semi-final when he defeated former national minor champion Niall Joyce from Mayo, and in the final he pushed another former minor champion, Wexford’s Gaelon Riordan, all the way before eventually suffering a gallant defeat.
Ryan then teamed up with his brother Pauric in the under-21 doubles and again he enjoyed a notable semi-final win over Mayo but it was Tipperary who ended his title hopes in the doubles championship as his fine season came to an end without the reward his efforts deserved.
Ryan and Pauric will now be cheering on their sister Ciara in the All-Ireland under-16 girls doubles final this Sunday.
Chris Curran and Stephen Conway made it through to the All Ireland masters b doubles final with their recent semi-final win over Sligo but they subsequently found Clare a much tougher nut to crack in the decider in Mullingar.
Shane O’Neill and Maeve McElduff both lost out at the semi-final stage of the All Ireland men’s and ladies intermediate singles championships, with Shane losing narrowly to Galway’s Ollie Conway who then went on to claim the title last Saturday in Croke Park.
Unfortunately things didn’t work out in Croke Park for the Tyrone minor doubles team as they found Wexford’s Daniel Kavanagh and Anthony Butler too strong on the night but the result should not detract from the amazing year that Sean Kerr has enjoyed across all codes, highlighted by his All-Ireland singles triumph in the 40×20 court.
Last weekend’s games brought the curtain down on all the adult 60×30 championships for 2016, now it’s down to the juveniles to play for All Ireland gold medals this weekend and what a day it promises to be in Loughmacrory.
U21 singles: Wexford (Gaelon Riordan) beat Tyrone (Ryan Mullan) 21-14, 21-18
Golden masters b singles: Tyrone (Conor Kerr) beat Kildare (Brendan Higginbotham) 21-19, 21-11
Minor doubles: Wexford (Daniel Kavanagh & Anthony Butler) beat Tyrone (Sean Kerr & Turlough Clarke) 21-4, 21-9
U21 doubles: Tipperary (Daniel Hayes & Padraig O’Donoghue) beat Tyrone (Ryan Mullan & Pauric Mullan) 21-7, 21-13
Masters b doubles: Clare (Tom Kirby & Fergal Coughlan) beat Tyrone (Chris Curran & Stephen Conway) 21-5, 21-11
Sunday 16th October in Loughmacrory @ 11am…
Girls U14 singles: Tyrone (Mairead Fox) v Kilkenny (Roisin O’Keeffe)
Girls U16 doubles: Tyrone (Ciara Mullan & Elizabeth McGarvey) v Kildare (Mollie Dagg & Leah Doyle)
Boys U16 singles: Tyrone (Antoin Fox) v Kerry (Dara Keane)

By tyronepro Sun 16th Oct

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