Tyrone teenage sensation Mairead Fox in hunt for more handball honours

Mairead Fox from Loughmacrory in Tyrone, who enjoyed All-Ireland minor championship triumph in December 2021 and then won further Irish National titles this year.
Mairead Fox from Loughmacrory in Tyrone, who enjoyed All-Ireland minor championship triumph in December 2021 and then won further Irish National titles this year.

Giving up a three-year scholarship at the University of Minnesota for studying at Queen's University is not an easy decision to make but Tyrone teenage handball star Mairead Fox did just that, opting to stay at home and further her education at the Belfast seat of learning.

"It wasn't an easy decision to make, naturally, but I decided to go to Queen's for the next three years and then go to Minnesota to do my Masters," she confirms. "Those are my plans at present and I hope they all work out.

"I will go to Queen's in September to study Maths and Finance and play the handball tournaments at home. There is not a lot left in handball here now, apart from some club tournaments and, of course, there is plenty of handball at Queen's to keep my eye in.

"We will have some ranking tournaments in the autumn and it is important to get points in those. The more ranking points you get the better it is for entering tournaments.

"I visited a few universities in the US during February and the handball situation there is eye-catching. Most of the universities have 16 courts but it is important to finish my studies before anything else."

The Loughmacrory girl (19) has beaten a trail of handball success through the teenage ranks that must have established players looking to their laurels.

Fox's trophy collection makes her one of the most decorated teenage players on record. She has tucked away national medals at U11, U13, U15 and U19 levels, under the watchful eye of coach Kenny Curran, who has steered her career for the past 10 years.

The former Loreto College, Omagh student, who also plays Ladies Gaelic Football with Loughmacrory GAC, has added four elite All-Ireland Championship trophies in 40x20 and 60x30 plus a One-Wall title, bringing her tally of titles at underage levels to an amazing 15.

"If pushed for an answer, I would say that 40x20 is my favourite handball competition," reflects Mairead. "My main strength would be my right side arm strength."

It hasn't been all smooth sailing over the years for the Tyrone girl, however. She has cracked her ankle three times and suffered a hip injury but to keep things right she regularly attends Letterkenny physio Tony Gallagher.

"When I was around 14-years-old I had a lot of injuries but, thankfully, not so many nowadays. I am thankful for that," she says. "My visits to the physio have been a great help."

She works hard on her game, too. She has been regularly in the gym at 6am so that she can have time for studying in the evenings and from now until going to Queen's in September she will work on any weaknesses in her game that she feels are necessary. With the list of trophies Mairead has already collected there can't be too many weaknesses to be mended.

"I am now really looking forward to my three years at Queen's and, hopefully, then to my Masters' Year in Minnesota. I don't think that I would have liked to go to America, at this time, for four years," she reflects.

"Playing handball professionally? I don't know just now but, maybe, it is something to think about later. Sponsorship is something that I might look into in the future, as well. Meanwhile, it is a case of keeping things going as they are at present."

She is, of course, gearing up for her entry into senior ranks in Ireland and one of the current crop of leading players she greatly admires is multi-titled Belfast player Fiona Shannon.

"Fiona has a great attitude, which I really admire. She has been one of the leading lady players for some time," praises the Tyrone talented star who, also, looks forward to stepping up an age rung on the ladder to hopeful further success.

Established stars may have to look to their laurels as there could be interesting times ahead in ladies' handball.