Clare’s Diarmaid Nash is just one win away from reaching the 2012 GAA Handball senior 40×20 singles final, only twelve months after collecting the intermediate honours.
Nash collides with current Irish number 2 and US Open champion, Westmeath’s Robbie McCarthy this weekend in Roscommon in the semi-final with the winner eyeing a final date with either Cavan’s Paul Brady or Meath’s Brian Carroll.
Nearly everyone within the Irish handball guild believes that the top two seeds, Brady and McCarthy will progress but Nash and Carroll are welcomed new additions to the senior semi-finals.
The Tuamgraney club star has made the transition into the highest echelons of the domestic game in such a short space of time and it hasn’t come as a surprise. The former world under 15 singles and doubles champion displayed all the credentials of a top class senior player in the junior cohorts and captured wins at the Irish Nationals at under 15, 17, 19 and under 23 brackets.
In 2011, Nash made the transition into the senior ranks when he defeated Tyrone’s Ruairi Kelly in the Intermediate decider and then quickly followed that with a first round win over 2011 senior runner up, Armagh’s Charlie Shanks at the Nationals in the open event. Nash indicated then that his win over the current USA number 5 player, Shanks was no one off as he advanced to the men’s open final in Wexford where he faltered to the hands of this weekend’s opponent, McCarthy.
McCarthy is one of the hottest players in the world of handball at present and currently holds every senior singles title in Ireland but for the 40×20 accolade. In 2011 he captured the senior hardball and softball codes in the 60×30 and the 40×20 men’s open nationals gong, all before jet-setting to California last October to become Ireland’s third ever player to get his hands on the USA Open title.
Still, Nash isn’t deterred by the challenge in hand and is fully aware of the obstacle standing between him and a senior finale on March 24th in Roscommon. “I haven’t being playing brilliantly yet to be honest but I’m just doing enough to win I guess. I hadn’t been playing a lot at the start of the year so I was hoping to play myself into a bit of form and thankfully I’m in the semis so I can’t complain,” said Nash.
“I train regularly with Robbie so I guess we know each other’s game pretty well at this stage. He beat me in the Nationals final last year and what a year he’s had since, so I’m under no illusions as to the scale of the challenge that awaits me. I’ll give it everything and obviously I’m a massive underdog but upsets do happen, so you never know.”
The dual GAA player combines college, handball and hurling commitments but has managed to reach his first target of the semi-final and is now determined to take one more step towards his ultimate goal. “Between college work and hurling I hadn’t played much earlier on in the year but when the draw came out I felt I had a decent chance of getting to the semis at least and now that I’m here I want to go one step further. I didn’t play the senior championship last year as I wanted to concentrate on the intermediate. This year is all about getting more ranking points so I bring up my seeding. If I play my best I have a chance and I’ll give it a lash and we’ll see how I go.”
Nash has shown he can overcome some of the finest players in the country namely Kerry’s Dominic Lynch and Mayo’s Joe McCann without producing his best handball as far as he’s concerned. He will undoubtedly have to produce his ‘A’ game this time around if he is to seriously threaten one of the most exciting players on the planet.
Meath’s Brian Carroll has been the dark horse of the series and many in handball have taken note of his form this season as he comfortably ousted Darragh Daly (Tyrone) 21-12, 21-4 and Gavin Buggy (Wexford) 21-6, 21-8, before toppling Antrim’s Ricky McCann in the last eight. The two times senior softball doubles winner will face a different examination in the second semi-final, scheduled for Monday evening in Roscommon.
Carroll’s opponent, three times world senior victor, Brady, is chasing a stunning eighth senior championship title on the trot and few would bet against the Mullaghoran man from scooping number 9 in total later this month. He has coasted through to this stage with wins over Peter Funchion (Kilkenny), Brendan Fleming (Cork) and double’s partner, Michael Finnegan.
Brady is only back recently playing competitive senior singles handball after a long absence with a hand injury, which will give Carroll some optimism for a shock result. Nevertheless, Carroll who is playing in his first senior 40×20 singles semi-final, like Nash is the underdog this weekend. Both players have highly impressed so far, but they face two of the finest 40×20 talents that this country has ever produced in Brady and McCarthy and that’s the final pairing prophesied after this weekend’s bouts.
Meanwhile, the men’s open doubles will be whittled down to the final four with 2010 softball champions, Meath’s Tom Sheridan and Brian Carroll expected to overcome Tipperary’s Ger Coonan and Fergal Collins. 2011 softball winners, Wexford’s Barry Goff and Colin Keeling meet Wicklow’s Johnny Willoughby and Michael Gregan. 40×20 Winners in 2009, Mayo’s Dessie Keegan and Joe McCann should prevail in Beragh when they meet Antrim’s Ricky McCann and Seamus O’Tuama.
Cavan’s Brady and Finnegan are gunning for their eighth title win in early April. However, the Breffni duo will be in no doubt as to the quality of their last eight antagonists, Kerry’s Seamus O’Carroll and CJ Fitzpatrick.
In the ladies doubles, sisters, Fiona Shannon and Sibeal Gallagher (Antrim) play Cork’s Catriona Casey and Aisling O’Keefe, while Kerry’s Maria Daly and Ashley Prendiville carry the favourite’s tag against Mayo’s Amy Corrigan and Pauline Gallagher. The Kerry side will be aiming for payback after their defeat to Mayo in the softball final last September.