Eoin Kennedy wins 10th All-Ireland 60x30 Senior Softball Singles title
By Paul Fitzpatrick
In the final singles match ever to be played in the famous handball centre at Croke Park, Dublin's Eoin Kennedy produced one of the greatest upsets in the venue's storied history this evening.
The 40-year-old St Brigid's man, whose form had been patchy of late, was given little chance of claiming a 10th MyClubShop.ie All-Ireland 60x30 Senior Singles title against Westmeath's Robbie McCarthy but he rolled back the years with a performance full of courage, resilence and no little skill.
McCarthy had seen Kennedy off in the last four finals but the Dubliner halted the drive for five on a 21-20, 21-18 scoreline before the largest crowd at Ceannáras in many years.
Early on in game one, there was little between them as both appeared shot shy, feeling each other out. Kennedy, though, utlisling a tricky straight lob serve down the left, eventually settled and nudged in front.
A gutsy kill in the left corner made it 12-8 and a long-range roll-out saw him reach 13; a pass down the right made it 14-8 and suddenly the upset seemed on.
But back came McCarthy. A couple of magical kills saw him regain confidence and he seized back the lead at 16-15 and rode his momentum to 20-18.
Kennedy, though, looking extremely fit, was in no mood to roll over. The St Brigid's man had spoken in the build-up about how desperate he had been to make it back to the final in the iconic venue and once there, it was clear he was determined to inflict a first big alley defeat on the Mullingar man since 2014.
Tempers frayed as both players disputed refereeing calls but Kennedy wasn't ruffled. A flat kill got him back into the service box and while McCarthy won the next rally with the deftest of touches, Kennedy was not to be denied.
A hand error from the Westmeath and a pass down the glass sidewall levelled the game at 20-all and he finished it with a 50-foot right corner kill to close out game one.
The holder came out fired up in game two and raced into a 7-2 lead, dominating front court, and he later led 11-7 and 14-11 before Kennedy's second comeback began. Amazingly, the 40-year-old was beginning to look the fitter man, edging the long rallies, and when McCarthy squandered an opportunity, he tied the second game at 14-14.
Seven-time winner McCarthy kept fighting and edged in front at 18-17 but Kennedy was not to be denied. Known for his slick defensive skills, he was the more aggressive, attacking player all day and would out-shoot McCarthy, recording 33 kills to his opponent's 23 over the 90-minute match.
Pass shots down left and right took him to game-ball and when the chance presented itself, Kennedy buried it in the right corner to seal one of the most remarkable victories in handball history.
Earlier, Kyle Dunne became the eighth Kilkenny player to win the Minor Singles title when he saw off Monaghan's Eoghan McGinnity in a thriller (14-21, 21-13, 21-18) while Limerick's Martina McMahon retained her Ladies Senior Singles crown with a 21-9, 21-12 victory over Catriona Casey of Cork.