Conor McElduff and Martina McMahon aiming to defend All-Ireland handball crowns
It is a packed weekend in handball on both sides of the Atlantic.
On home soil, the All-Ireland One Wall Championships, in various grades, will be decided at Castlebar while in Salt Lake City, Utah, the Men's and Women's Players' Championships will be battled out with deep Irish interest in both events.
At Breaffy Sports Arena in Mayo, Tyrone's Conor McElduff will defend the Men's title with Martina McMahon travelling up from Limerick to defend the women's crown, as both players stay at home to bid for further national honours.
Apart from the titles on the line, the One Wall men's and women's places in the official Irish team for the World's Championships will be decided to complete the Irish panel for Minnesota.
However, it may not be the winner of the men's race in Castlebar who will travel to the US for the Worlds as included in the weekend draw for the Men's Open title is Spaniard Sacha Kruithof who bids for the title.
Obviously, should he emerge the Breaffy Arena winner on Sunday, he would not represent Ireland in the US.
“As this is a national championship it is open to anyone but if Sasha should win there will be a play-off between the players he beats in the semi-finals and the final, to find who goes to the World Championships as the Irish men's One Wall representative,” explains Croke Park National Handball Fixtures & Events Officer Austin McKenna.
Conor McElduff is back in top action after an early season leg injury and, as holder, is seeded Number One to retain the title. Martin Mulkerrins (Galway) is at the other end of a talent-packed draw of young and not-so-young players.
Biggest danger to the seedings would seem to be Robbie McCarthy, although the Westmeath man must get through the Round of 16 if he is to make a serious bid for honours. He will first face young Tyrone contestant Pol Clarke.
Yesterday, experience doubles player Carl Browne (Dublin) withdrew from the competition giving Johnny Woods (Tyrone) a bye into the quarter-final in which he will clash with Irish Singles champion Mulkerrins.
It will be a huge weekend of handball in Castlebar as 390 players, all guaranteed at least two contests, will play 400 matches.
It will be huge weekend in Salt Lake City, too, with Cork pair Killian Carroll and Catriona Casey defending the men's and women's Players' Championship titles, both firm favourites to add to their list of US honours.
Casey defeated her now arch rival Martina McMahon in the final last year after the Limerick girl suffered an injury while Carroll got a bit of scare in the decider having to go to a third game against Luis Cordova, junior. Cordova won the first game at 12 but Carroll didn't allow him even one point second time on court and he took the third game 15-6 to clinch the title again.
“Winning in New York last time was a big boost to me,” says Casey who has dominated the women's game in the States, apart from one defeat there by Martina McMahon who has stayed at home this weekend to defend the All-Ireland One Ball crown.
“I am determined to keep the Players' Championship title as it is the big competition on the tour. I want to retain my Number One position,” stressed Catriona.
It looks very much like another Cork double in Utah.
All-Ireland One Wall Championships at Breaffy Sports Arena Castlebar
(Tomorrow to Monday)
Tomorrow: Men's Open – Last 16: (a) C Burke (Mayo) v P McCrory (Tyrone); (b) S Kruithof (Spain) v J Campbell (Tyrone); (c) P Clarke (Tyrone) v R McCarthy (Westmeath).
Saturday: Men's Quarter-finals: (1) C McElduff (Tyrone) v (a); (2) (b) v (c); (3) P Quish (Limerick) v S Kerr (Tyrone); (4) J Woods (Tyrone) v M Mulkerrins (Galway).
Ladies' Open – Last 16: (a) A Corrigan (Mayo) v E Ní Bhiadha (Galway); (b) E O'Connor (Kildare) v P Gallagher (Mayo); (c) E McCrory (Tyrone) v S Hanley (Galway).
Quarter-finals: (1) M McMahon (Limerick) v (a); (2) M McCann (Armagh) v N Dunne (Laois); (3) F Tully (Roscommon) v (b); (4) C Mahon (Kilkenny) v (c).
Sunday: Men's Semi-finals – (1) v (2); (3) v (4). Men's final.
Ladies' Semi-finals – (1) v (2); (3) v (4). Ladies' final.
Monday: Closing stages of various other grades.