Paddy Walsh & Shane Bruen go for Gold in Saturday's All-Ireland handball finals
Sligo’s handball stars to shine in All-Ireland handball 40 x 20 finals
All roads lead to Kilbeggan for two enticing All-Ireland handball finals involving Sligo players Shane Bruen & Paddy Walsh, writes Michael McGee.
"Roll that dice one more time. Some will win, some will lose. Some will sing the blues . Hold on to that feeling one more time. Don’t stop believing."
Words from the famous Journey rock band song “Dont stop believing” hit back in 1981 those words are very apt for our Sligo stars today as they prepare for their own final journey’s of discovery in which it is hoped will end with the coveted Celtic cross on Saturday.
Sligo’s Shane Bruen is first into action against Wexford’s Barry McWilliams in the Masters B singles finale.
The Sligo man’s handball career went stellar in 2014 when he was victorious winning both the Masters B singles and Masters B doubles (with Martin Cooney) All-Ireland handball 60 x 30 titles last September. The Collooney club man has made great strides and has set his sights firmly on winning the Masters B singles title in the 40 x 20 court.
Standing in his way is Barry McWilliams who has under achieved was a runner up to Meath’s Conor O’Connor in last year’s Leinster 40 x 20 final. He did however team up with Wexford Senior Star Gavin Buggy as the Slaneysiders were beaten by Mayo’s Vinnie Moran & Paul Flynn in the Over 35 A doubles 60 x 30 final in 2014.
Bruen, has kept the momentum going since an unforgettable 2014. He already has registered a successful Connacht campaign when recording a 21-8,21-14 win over Mayo’s Michael Ginley in the provincial decider.
Over in Leinster there were 16 entries in this grade with McWilliams winning through with relative ease. His only real test came in the Leinster final where he was brought to 3 games before getting the better of Dublin’s Ciaran McCallum. McWilliams is highly rated by Wexford handball Secretary Tony Breen who tipped the Horeswood club man for success right at the start of the season.
McWilliams comes from a terrific handball family which boasts three generations currently playing in the Wexford championships; his dad Ger, 71 years young and also President of Wexford Handball Board, brother Fergal, a former officer of the Board and Fergal's son Danny who played U17 Doubles for Wexford two weeks ago in the Leinster final
In the All-Ireland semi-finals Bruen had a tough battle with Clare’s Tom Kirby in Collooney before winning out by 21-15, 21-16 while McWilliams had a slightly easier passage to the final with an 21-12, 21-12 victory over Monaghan’s Michael Clerkin.
Both players are extremely fit and picking a winner is difficult. Shane Bruen’s experience of having won recent All-Ireland titles should stand to him and it may just be enough to see him over the line. But it’s going to be mightily close.
Predication: Shane Bruen to shade it but only just.
Walsh to dethrone reigning Champion
The other Sligo man who has travelled every highway and byway in Ireland is the legendary Paddy Walsh. Walsh who celebrates his 75th birthday in August won his first All-Ireland handball title in 1974. Walsh also has 7 County Football titles with the Collooney/Ballisodare side and one County title with St. Mary's. Walsh. Walsh represented Sligo at Junior/Senior Level in football back in the 1960’s. Walsh also received a civic reception from the then Sligo Mayor Marcella McGarry in October 2013. Despite getting two hip operations in 2004 and 2005 the Sligo handball legend has bounced back stupendously and is arguably playing the best handball of his career. In Connacht his participation was in grave doubt with a shoulder injury picked up the week before hand in training. Walsh, was taken to 3 games against Galway’s Peter Mulryan in the Provinical decider but finished strongly to win overall by 21-12, 16-21, 21-2. In his All-Ireland semi-final which also went to 3 games against Cork’s Pat O’Brien in Collooney. Walsh had a sluggish start before finally getting into his rhythm and helped on by the large support in the gallery Walsh went on to win and exciting match by 16-21, 21-6, 21-16. His never say die attitude has pulled him out of many a tight situation and he had to dig deep against O’Brien in that final game.
O’Brien was leading by 16-7 and looked homed and hosed. But Walsh the true Sligo warrior that he is never panicked and staged a remarkable final set recovery that could not have been scripted or dreamt off just minutes previously. With great heart and battling ability Walsh stormed back into contention and literally took O’Brien breadth away with a stunning victory in the end.
Walsh’s final opponent is Dublin’s Ned Flynn. The Dubliner is a retired member of the Garda Siochana with 36 year’s service. A native of Donard Co. Wicklow Flynn has won several Garda handball championships and has the distinction of winning a World Police & Fire games handball title back in the 1990’s.
On the home front he has won 6 All-Ireland handball titles in the Dublin colours and is the reigning champion in the Over 70’s singles grade. In his semi-final the metropolitan had an exciting 21-18, 21-20 victory over Antrim’s Seamus Graham in Leixlip. News of that result was welcomed by Walsh. Walsh was defeated by Graham in the Ruby Masters singles final in 2011 in Abbeylara with Graham utilising the spin serve to devastating effect that day.
This has the hallmarks of another classic encounter between two highly respected players who have given so much to the sport. Walsh has been taken to three games in all his matches to the final and Saturday’s encounter may also produce another 3 game thriller between the masters giants.
Flynn from the Na Fianna club is aiming for his 7th title while Walsh towers that seeking his 31st title in an astonishing handball career. Walsh’s indefatigable will to win should be the catalyst for another historic written chapter for Sligo handball’s greatest ever player.
Predication Paddy Walsh to win in 3 games.
Shane Bruen & Paddy Walsh “don’t stop believing”
All-Ireland handball 40 x 20 championships finals
Saturday 14th March in Kilbeggan at 11.30
Masters B singles: Shane Bruen ( Sligo) v Barry McWilliams (Wexford)
Over 70’s Paddy Walsh (Sligo) v Ned Flynn (Dublin)