Juveniles shine at nationals
Bright future on cards as Wexford reps. are top aces
The 60 x 30 Irish nationals handball championship was held recently in venues the length and breadth of the county, with all big alley courts hosting games over a busy weekend.
The Juvenile format is doubles only, and Wexford had twelve pairings going into battle against the very best boys and girls from across the country.
Representing Wexford in the girls 13 and under, taking place in Taghmon, were the St. Joseph's pairing of Jodie Keeling and Ellie Murphy-O'Gorman. With Jodie only eleven years old, the girls faced a tough task from the start, but on the handball scene both are known for their amazing talent, and nothing seems to faze this duo.
The girls got off to a great start, winning their first game 15-1, 15-6 against the pairing from Kilkenny. Up next were a strong Clare pairing of Chloe Philpott and Ellie Casey. This game was by far the best of the day in this age group.
The Wexford girls got off to a slow start, losing the first 15-7, but stepped up to win the second 15-9. Heading into the third both Wexford girls looked tired and Clare took a strong lead that was just too much to pull back.
Although they put up a fight, they lost the third 11-2. Both Wexford girls will have to convert back to singles mode as they will face each other in the upcoming Under-13 county final.
Flying the county colours at girls 17 and under were Eva Crean (St. Joseph's) and Cliodhna O'Connell (Coolgreany). These girls are certainly no strangers to stepping out on the big stage and are a pairing other counties wanted to avoid.
Facing them first in the semi-final were Kilkenny's R. O'Keeffe and D. O'Keeffe. The girls didn't get going at all in the first game, losing 15-4.
Knowing they had to step up or be out, the girls upped their game to take the second 15-9. Kilkenny weren't finished just yet and a battle ensued in the third which produced some cracking handball, but thankfully the girls clinched it 11-9.
Moving on to the final, the Wexford girls came up against the top-seeded pairing from Kildare, the power hitter Leah Doyle and Abbey Tarrant. Knowing that losing the first game was not an option, the Wexford girls showed tremendous spirit to take the first by the narrow score of 15-14.
The Kildare girls showed the large crowd why they are the best around though, taking the second 15-10. The Kildare girls kept the pace up in the third and our girls matched them shot for shot, but unfortunately Kildare won the championship 11-6.
Coolgreany saw the coming together of the cream of the crop in the boys 13 and under, boys 15 and under, and boys 17 and under.
In the boys 13 and under, Wexford had two pairings in local duo Conor Horan and John Connors, and brothers Rory and Conor Dobbs from St. Joseph's.
The Dobbs brothers don't get too many chances to play doubles competitively with each other. Rory, only eleven, decided to move up ages and take on a different ball to compete with his brother.
Receiving a bye in the first round, the brothers had to face top seeds and All-Ireland winners Conor Holden and Kyle Jordan (Kilkenny). This proved to be a step too far and they went down by two games to zero.
The Wexford brothers then had a chance in the plate final but unfortunately faced another strong pairing from Kilkenny and also lost out 21-9.
The other Wexford pairing from Coolgreany, Conor and John, started off their campaign against Kilkenny. The boys didn't get off to a great start, losing the first game 15-9, but with the support of the home crowd they dug deep to take the second 15-12.
In the third both pairings matched each other score for score with neither giving anything away, but with the score stuck on seven apiece the Kilkenny lads made sure to make their two hands count, taking the game 11-7.
In the boys 15 and under, Wexford had three doubles pairings, seeded players Mark Doyle (Taghmon) and Josh Kavanagh (St. Joseph's), Castlebridge duo David Doyle and Joe Devereux, and Dean O'Neill (Ballymitty) and Diarmuid Moore (St. Joseph's).
The Castlebridge pairing faced a daunting start when they came up against hot favourites from Kilkenny, Kyle Dunne and Billy O'Neill. The boys found it hard to get any sort of rhythm going and the Kilkenny lads took this one in two straight games.
Dean and Diarmuid came up against a pairing from Mayo and got off to a flyer to win the first game. They had a slight lead in the second and seemed to be completely in control when concentration seemed to just drop and the boys lost.
Moving into the third they found a bit of their first game form but left it too late, losing 11-7. This set up an all-Wexford plate final which went the way of Dean and Diarmuid 21-6, but this does not reflect the game that was played. The Castlebridge boys just lacked the power and experience to match big hitters Dean and Diarmuid.
With seeded players Mark and Josh receiving a bye in the first round, they had a hard task in Kilkenny duo Seán Barron and Billy Drennan at the semi-final stage but came through by two games to zero.
Up next for the amazingly talented Wexford lads were the equally talented Kyle Dunne and Billy O'Neill from Kilkenny. The Wexford lads showed the Kilkenny boys how to play handball in the first, winning 15-10, but the Kilkenny lads turned the tables in the second, taking it 15-4.
This thrilling final could have gone either way as all four players are fantastic young players, all having won national titles before, so no one could call this.
It was nail-biting handball and Kilkenny produced some excellent shots, pinning the Wexford lads back. Once they took a slight lead they never let it go, taking this prestigious title back to Kilkenny 11-7. Hard luck to Mark and Josh.
The boys 17 and under saw two pairings from Wexford entering. Adam Walsh and Cian Kehoe (St. Joseph's) competed, and Colm Parnell (Ballyhogue) joined forces with Ciarán Parnell (Coolgreany).
Both pairings started their campaign off against players from Kilkenny. Kilkenny were hot favourites to take this title and they certainly didn't disappoint.
Adam and Cian faced top seeded players Jack Doyle and Eoin Brennan in their semi-final and, although they put it up to them, they couldn't match them for killer shots.
It was much the same with Colm and Ciarán who played some great handball but lost out to Conor Cooney and Conor Drennan.
This set up another all-Wexford plate final and this also provided the crowd with the game of the day. All four Wexford players produced outstanding, excellent handball and both sets of boys were determined to win this one.
Nether pair took any great lead as it was point-for-point all the way, and at 19 all Adam and Cian took their chance with serve. The boys got the remaining two aces to take them over the finish line.
Down in Castlebridge the boys eleven and under fun-style blitz was held with three Wexford pairings taking centre stage: Castlebridge duo Joshua Roche and Kilian Buckley, St. Mary's duo Jamie Barnes and Jack Creane, and Castlebridge lad Lucas Kehoe who teamed up with Carlow's Andy Smullen.
Everyone played each other once with no winner declared at the end. The boys had five games in total with pairings from Tipperary, Kilkenny and Meath joining them for this fun-filled day.
At the end of the day they were all presented with a GAA Handball gift bag by Senior women's runner-up Martina McMahon from Limerick, and this went down a treat.
The level of handball that was on display by these young players was immense, and the future is bright with these boys around.