Casey and Reilly could be set for yet another US shoot-out
IRELAND'S handball stars are in the US again, hoping to bring back another haul of titles.
It's the Simple Greens US Open Championships in California, but it was touch and go whether or not world champion Aisling Reilly would be there to bid for the Women's Open crown.
Reilly goes for a third win in the competition but lost in the final for the past two years to her arch rival Catriona Casey. Now that the Belfast star has decided to make the trip, again, it could well be another Cork-Belfast shootout as the pair are, as usual, placed at the opposite ends of the draw.
“I actually went back and forth in my mind on whether or not to make the trip to the US Open this year. This season has been quite long and it has been well over a year since I had a decent break but, when push came to shove. I had the training already in the bank so it made sense to carry on for another few weeks,” said Reilly.
“I have only been able to play a handful of times since coming back from Canada in August but I wouldn't be here if I didn't think that I was up for the challenge.”
That statement surely shows Reilly means business now that she is in Fountain Valley for the annual tournament and glad she decided to travel. However, thoughts of meeting Catriona Casey, for the umpteenth time, in a major final is not on her mind this morning as she begins the action with a quarter-final crack at either Yvonne August or Makiala Mitchell, after the Americans sort out their Round of 16 clash in the early hours of on Friday.
“The schedule and draw, this year, has the potential winner playing three games in less than 24 hours so I can, honestly, see no further than my first game. Then I just need to make sure I nail my routine and recover as best I can, play good handball and, hopefully, finish this already incredible year on a high,” stresses the world champion.
Casey awaits the outcome of the battle between Newfoundlander Leslie Amminson and Jean Kastner from Orlando but, like Reilly, shouldn't have much trouble in reaching the semi-finals. Catriona has beaten Aisling in the last two finals but, of course, the latter got ample compensation with victories in the Irish Senior and World Open finals.
In between the final favourites in the draw is Limerick's Martina McMahon, who is in Casey's half of the draw, and who is a big danger. Aoife McCarthy (Mullingar) is in Reilly's half.
Among the 350 players in the various competitions are 17 Irish with Paul Brady defending the Men's Open title and, naturally, favourite to collect it, once again. There are no byes in the Men's Open and Brady first test was from New Yorker Matthew Chu in the Round of 32.
Not the stiffest of tests, it would appear, for the Cavan man but down the line are a list of regular challengers to Brady's lofty position. Among them are Irish bidders Robbie McCarthy, Killian Carroll, Diarmaid Nash and Ger Noonan.
For a long time, Luis Moreno was the serious challenger to Brady but the Arizonian slipped a little for a while. However, he is back to his best now with some notable victories. Once more, he is seeded number two, but there is a lot of talent in the draw between Brady and Moreno.
Still, it would be a surprise if record world champion Brady doesn't retain the title and collect the first prize of $10,000, again.