Over 300 players to compete in GAA Handball Wallball Nationals
GAA Handball’s Wallball Nationals returns this weekend for the first time since 2019 as a field of over 300 players heads for Co Roscommon.
With the competition’s traditional home, Breaffy House in Co Mayo, unavailable, the Kilglass club, which boasts a three-court indoor facility, has stepped into the breach to host, along with the Convent of Mercy school.
The Men’s Open field is star-studded, headed by world champion Conor McElduff. The Breacach star, currently ranked number one on the European Tour, has been plagued by injuries but remains the man to beat, having shown stellar form in European events in recent months.
McElduff won the title in 2014 and ’15, lost the final to Martin Mulkerrins in 2016, and bounced back to claim top honours again in 2017 and 2018. He will be fancied to reach the final in the top half of the draw, which also includes Wallball specialist James Prentice from Tipperary as well as Mallow’s David Walsh, who enjoyed an excellent 40x20 season just gone by.
McElduff meets the winner of Down’s Sean Digney and Galway’s Peter Davoren in his opener.
The bottom half of the Men’s Open looks a real minefield, with the inclusion of Kilkenny dual star Billy Drennan having generated a great buzz in handball circles. Drennan, who led the Cats’ U20 hurlers to the All-Ireland title earlier in the year, has been previously described as “a handballer from another planet” by top Wexford player Gavin Buggy and has a 60x30 Minor Singles title to his name as well as pushing Eoghan McGinnity a third game in the corresponding 40x20 decider.
Drennan meets Tyrone’s Darragh Daly, a finalist in 2014 and a super practitioner of this code, in an intriguing opening round game, with the winner taking on either Kildare lefty Kevin Diggins (the 2022 40x20 Junior Singles champion) or Tyrone speedster Sean Kerr, who made the final in 2019 and is regarded as one of the most exciting young players in the game at present.
The Women’s Open field is headed by world champion Martina McMahon. The Limerick citeog sustained a career-threatening back injury last year but it is testament to her battling qualities and skill that, playing through the pain barrier, she has made the finals of a number of events since.
Her rivalry with Catriona Casey has been an adornment on the sport in recent years, with the pair splitting all of the major singles titles between them, and the pair may well be on a collision course again this weekend.
The Ballydesmond woman won this event in 2015, the last time she played it, and is seeded second; her inclusion is a major coup and is sure to add huge excitement for the fans.. Casey will meet the winner of Galway’s Aisling Mullin and Armagh’s Calíosa Ní Dhúill.
The third seed is Roscommon ladies footballer Fiona Tully, who takes on rising Tyrone star Clodagh Munroe. Cuileann Bourke (Mayo) and Eilise McRory (Tyrone) also clash, with the winner of Laura Finn (Sligo) and Claire Conway (Tyrone) running into McMahon in the quarter-final.
The aforementioned McGinnity heads the field in the Men’s B, where former Fermanagh senior footballer Cian McManus is a notable inclusion, with 33 runners going to post in the Men’s C and Challenger divisions.
There are Masters grades right up to Over 65s. The juvenile competitions are 11 and Under mixed, 13 and Under through to 19 and Under in the males, with Wexford’s Mark Doyle the top seed in the latter, and 13 and Under through to 17 and Under for ladies, with Doyle’s Wexford colleague Jodie Keeling the lady to beat in 17s.
GAA Handball will be live streaming the Open semi-finals and finals on its Facebook page.