CHARLY Shanks and Catriona Casey won the men's and women's Irish Adult 40x20 Four-Wall Nationals in Belfast last year and they will defend their titles in Ballinrobe this weekend, both seeded Number One and both determined to retain their titles. Ironically, both also go into battle after being on the losing end in their last tournaments.
Lurgan man Shanks lost to Robbie McCarthy in the final of the FonaCab Golden Gloves tournament, at St Paul's, while Corkonion Casey was shocked in the decider of the WR48Pro Women's Singles in Tucson, Arizona, by Limerick's Martina McMahon.
However, those setbacks will make both players more determined than ever to retain the Nationals crowns.
“I was disappointed to lose the final of the Golden Gloves but weekend tournaments are always dangerous occasions. Every game is tough with very little time to rest,” says Software Developer Shanks. “If you get to the final you have four games inside about 30 hours.
“A decision was made a few years ago to limit the games to 15 aces instead of 25 and that has been a help but, still, the programmes is packed and it takes a lot of stamina to survive.”
It is just four weeks since the Golden Gloves when Shanks lost the crown to Robbie McCarthy and, since then, he hasn't been in action. McCarthy has been in Arizona and reached the men's final against Killian Carroll.
One of the younger guns will be the Shanks' opponent – Daniel Relihan from Cork being first to try and take the holder down. The winner will then face either Peter Funchion (Kilkenny) or Ger Coonan (Tipperary) in the afternoon quarter-finals.
McCarthy is seeded Number Two with Tyrone youth Johnny Woods his opponent and he could give the Golden Gloves winner a few anxious moments.
“There is a group of young players at present who are all quite capable of causing upsets,” claims Shanks.
Another one is Woods' Breacach club colleague Sean Kerr who plays Clare man Diarmuid Nash, in a repeat of their Gloves quarter-final battle which the latter won 15-4, 15-13, after a close second game. In the previous round, Kerr impressed when knocking out Number Three ranked Owen McKenna.
All of the 16 players in the Men's Open have good credentials but it would seem, on form, as if Charly Shanks, Diarmuid Nash, Owen McKenna and Robbie McCarthy can reach Sunday morning's semi-finals.
Despite defeat in Arizona, it has been a fabulous year for Catriona Casey and it is very possible that she will clash, again, with Left-hander Martina McMahon in Sunday's final.
McMahon has twice pulled off a win over Casey this year. She won the She's Ace final in February, as well as, her victory in Tucson. In between Casey had a number of wins over the Limerick lass.
Irish Adult 40x20 Handball Nationals Draw
Men's Open at Ballinrobe – Round of 16: C Shanks (Armagh) v D Rehilan (Kerry); Peter Funchion (Kilkenny) v G Coonan (Tipperary); C Crehan (Clare) v G Buggy (Wexford); S Kerr (Tyrone) v D Nash (Limerick); O McKenna (Antrim) v M Hedigan (Cork); T O'Neill (Cork) v D Daly (Tyrone); P Moran (Kildare) v T Carroll (Cork); J Woods (Tyrone) v R McCarthy (Westmeath).
Ladies' Open at Ballinrobe – Preliminary Round: (a) A McCarthy (Westmeath) v A McNamee (Donegal); (b) E Donnellan (Kildare) v A O'Keeffe (Cork); (c) P Gallagher (Mayo) v M McCann (Armagh).
Quarter-finals: C Casey (Cork) v (a); C Mahon (Kilkenny) v F Tully (Roscommon); A Reilly (Antrim) v (b); M McMahon (Limerick) v (c).
Among the other 15 grades to be decided over the weekend are Men' A, Ladies' B, Men's and Ladies' 23&Under. Apart from Ballinarobe the other courts to be used are at Carnacoon, Charlestown, Newport, An Sportlann, Ballaghaderreen and Kiltimagh.