Martina McMahon: 'Female handball is in a good place'
By Cian O’Connell
“I think female handball is in a good place,” Martina McMahon admits. The highly regarded Limerick handball star has certainly helped that happen.
On Saturday the latest chapter in a budding rivalry with Cork’s Caitriona Casey will be penned at Croke Park. That represents the next daunting challenge, but McMahon is excited about the future of the game in Ireland.
“Definitely, the pool of female players, and even the younger ones coming up is probably the strongest I've seen,” McMahon adds.
“Obviously we had standouts like Fiona Shannon and Aisling Reilly, who is still competing. I think there is a stronger overall group now, there isn't just one dominant player. It is great to see young ones coming up, it keeps me on my toes.
“There is young ones chasing so you just can't keep focused on Caitriona and Aisling Reilly. You have to be wary of the ones coming up through trying to make the breakthrough.
“It is great to have the younger ones coming in not afraid to play in the senior ranks. It gives us game time, it improves their games, and just puts it in a good place overall.”
How the McMahon versus Casey story continues remains a source of intrigue to handball followers. “It is probably a massive talking point amongst spectators with what is to come, especially after Caitriona beating me in the 40x20 earlier this year,” McMahon acknowledges. “So I'm hoping to get revenge by getting the 60x30 this year anyway.
“The good thing is we are pushing each other on. So it is improving both our games. It is nice that the 40x20 is at the beginning of the year and then the big alley is then towards the latter end of the year.
“It is nice to be able to come back to compete against each other again before the year is out. Hopefully it will be a great game. I know it is going to be tough - as it always is with Caitriona.
“It is going to be a battle. It won't be a short battle either because we always seem to go to a tiebreaker recently. I'm looking forward to it, bring it on, I suppose.”
McMahon has triumphed in the 60x30 National finals twice in the last three years illustrating the manner in which her game is progressing.
“I made the breakthrough to senior level in 2014,” McMahon recalls. “Obviously when you are up there it takes a bit of time to adapt to the players. They are obviously senior for a reason.
“When I made my breakthrough for a couple of years I had plenty of losses. For the year I had in 2018 it was a dream year. When you have so many losses from before that when you just enter the senior ranks, then you have a dream year like last year it makes all of those losses worth it.
“You learn more from a loss than you do from a win, it is all about how you take those losses, keep going.”
Finding the correct balance between work, rest, and sport, though, can be a demanding task for McMahon, who is always eager to improve further. “I try to train as much as possible,” McMahon replies.
“Like any athlete or any sports star rest days are just as important as training days. You have to get your mind right. I remember a quote 'it is harder to not to train than to train.'
The days I take rest days I'm like an antichrist at home to be honest. I don't like the rest days, but you have to listen to your body too.
“When you get to the senior ranks it is all about mentality, how you approach your game as opposed to your shots.
“You can't really develop more on your shots or your technique when you are in the senior ranks. You are what you are. It is more about how you approach games, how you rest or just how you approach the game in general.”
Does McMahon constantly search for advice from other sporting codes? “I do have a coach for the handball side of it, we discuss things out,” McMahon answers.
“I wouldn't go further afield, I like to keep it inhouse. I stick to my own plan, I wouldn't be telling many what I'm doing, I keep it on the qt. It is paying off up to now, but like anyone I have plenty of things to improve on too.
“While you still feel there is room for improvement, anyone can't be always at their best, otherwise they would be beating people to zero. I still have stuff to work on, I see that as a good thing.
“If I thought I was number one or the best and couldn't see any improvement in my game I think I'd be in a bad place. It is good for me to see things I can improve on.”
Remaining firmly focused is what McMahon attempts to do so organising her activities in advance helps carry that out. “I work out a schedule, more weekly,” McMahon comments
“Then I see what I want to attend over a longer term too. So I keep them in the back of my head and you take every tournament as it comes and every game as it comes.
“I would be organised in a sports aspect, but as for housekeeping and all that, definitely not. It is the last thing on my list, but for sport I like structure.
“I like everything in its place. Once you have an outline as to what is coming ahead I think you can focus better on your goals, it is better than having a cluttered mind.”
Ultimately, while winning and losing counts, being part of the handball community is something which matters to McMahon.
“That is it, in the great scheme of things compared to hurling and football there isn't as many playing,” McMahon remarks.
“Obviously we would like to improve the numbers, but the ones that are playing, we all know each other.
“Once you close the door of the alley you are enemies, but outside of that at the end of the day it is a sport. Unfortunately there has to be a loser, but fortunately there has to be a winner.
“You have to take it in your stride. We are fairly close, but once the door closes in the alley like the Incredible Hulk, the female version comes out in me, I'd be competitive in that aspect obviously,” she laughs.
A former Limerick Camogie player McMahon still deals with calls inviting her back on to the green fields in the county. “I gave it all up for the handball,” McMahon remarks.
“Mind you they have been on to me to play Camogie and even Football, but God help us they haven't seen my football strength.
“I have two left legs, they are trying their hardest. I have only one mindset now: that is for handball.”
McMahon’s courage and class is increasingly evident on the senior stage. Another fascinating tussle looms with Casey.