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Charly Shanks wins grudge match beating Westmeath's Robbie McCarthy in a thrilling final

Armagh handball star Charly Shanks. Picture by Seamus Loughran.
Tony McGee

The John Gaffney Memorial Handball Tournament in Ballaghaderreen and St Coman's Roscommon has been running for almost a decade and has established itself as a top-class tournament with coveted ranking points on offer.

It is also the traditional opener to the new season with players aiming to lay out their stall for the big events ahead.

Doing that in style this time was current Ulster and All-Ireland Champion Charly Shanks as the Armagh doyen narrowly overcame the three-time former winner Westmeath's Robbie McCarthy in a thrilling final, to claim the Gaffney Memorial crown in front of a full house in Ballaghaderreen.

This was something of a rubber match between the two players, as Shanks had taken McCarthy's All-Ireland title last year and McCarthy had stripped Shanks of the Golden Gloves crown.

It was the decider that the big gallery had hoped for and with exciting styles of play, the meeting of Shanks' power game with the natural flair of McCarthy, provided a truly astonishing spectacle of handball after their paths to the final being somewhat different.

McCarthy eased his way through the draw, conceding an average of just two points per game, with wins over evergreen Wexford native, and former county hurler, Gavin Buggy in the Round of 16, up-and-coming young talent Peter Function (Kilkenny) in the quarter final, and in-form Cork man Brendan Fleming, who played some of the best handball of his career in the semi-final.

Meanwhile, Shanks had to battle hard for every win, coming through very close matches with wily Leesider Michael Hedigen in the Round of 16, local hero Stephen Cooney in the quarter-final and the short-priced Diarmaid Nash (Clare), the reigning Nationals titleholder, in the semi-final.

The final burst into life from the first ace.

McCarthy dominated the opening game, taking it 15-9. Shanks hit back second time on court, winning 15-10, and sending the pulsating battle into a tie-breaker. In that epic tussle of ace for ace, Shanks came out on top at 11-8 to cement his position as Ireland's Number One player.

It was a terrific weekend's handball and a great opener to the new year with the Irish Championship coming up in a few weeks' time.

It was also a fantastic boost for Shanks after he lost to McCarthy in the final of the Golden Gloves competition, at St Paul's.

Meanwhile, the Ulster 40×20 Colleges Championship takes place on Wednesday January 24. Boys grades are U15, U17 and U19 Singles and Doubles. Girls are U16 and U19 Singles and Doubles.

The U13 grades (which do not run to All-Ireland level) will be completed at a later date.

The entry fee is £9/€10 per player, capped at £54/€60 per school. Entry fees are payable on the day at registration.

The entry deadline is midnight on Thursday, January 11. This is a strict deadline and no late entries will be permitted.

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