Irish junior team manager, Meath’s Tom Sheridan has returned home after an exhausting but prize-winning trip in Tucson, Arizona with all the key titles securely tucked away into his suitcase.
Sheridan, now a masters player but still challenging in the top grade, is one of Ireland’s most respected talents on the handball court and has captured senior titles across the board as well as international honours.
Primarily regarded as a double’s specialist, the Kells club man also claimed the 2003 All-Ireland senior softball singles crown. Astonishingly, he has partnered four different players (Walter O’Connor, James McGovern, Egin Jenson and Brian Carroll) to senior All-Ireland 40×20 and 60×30 victories, spanning from 1987 to 2010.
His greatest international achievement came in June 2010 when he partnered Kilkenny’s Michael Ducksy Walsh to the 60th USHA Open Doubles Nationals series, defeating current top US ranked professionals, Seattle’s Sean Lenning and Tucson’s Luis Moreno.
The charismatic Sheridan switched roles productively from player to coach with a 100% pass rate as he guided Ireland’s six hottest young prospects to glory at the 56th USHA Junior National Championships at the Tucson Athletic club less than one week ago.
With the 2012 World Championships now encroaching upon us in October at the City West Hotel, Dublin, the future looks very promising for Irish handball if not ominous for the rest of the world’s junior players. The experienced Sheridan who has crossed the Atlantic on numerous occasions for international duty is as qualified as any to analyse Ireland’s contemporary juvenile supremacy.
“Irish players are dominating at the moment because of the coaching structures at club and national levels. We have seen a major rise in profile and much greater structures in place which has seen the initiation of a large number of competitions in the last number of years. This is providing impressive competitive tournaments for our players, compared to players in the US. We train more, get more coaching and have learned more from the senior players through the development squads and national coaching initiatives”
Having witnessed the finest junior stars grace the biggest junior competition on the international calendar, Sheridan has copious amounts of admiration for the latest cohort of talent that has emerged.
“All the players were in exceptional form and great credit must go to their coaches at local level who do all the hard work, week in and week out, and their parents who bring them to the games and to training.”
“All our girls were in great form out there and although the opposition was not strong as we may have anticipated, I cannot emphasise strongly enough how talented this current crop of young ladies players are in Ireland. I have no doubt they will make the transition to adult handball with consummate ease. The three boys all had to battle harder, especially in the finals, and they all have fine futures ahead of them. Watch out for Killian Carroll (Cork) in the very near future.”
The battled hardened veteran who is composed and measured on the court of play found the management experience on the sidelines a more exhaustive and anxious one. “The role of the coach is quite different than that of a player. Instead of being in the court for a few hours as a player, I spent 12 hours a day playing the coach role from 9am to 9pm, every day. As a player you would be a little nervous, but when you start playing the nerves go. As a coach the nerves are there until the players get over the finish line and the tie-breakers were particularly nerve wrecking.”
Cork’s Catriona Casey (Ballydesmond) who bagged the girls 19 and under title spoke of Sheridan’s prowess when she said, “it was great to have someone of Tom’s experience to advise us over there. Before the tournament, he did not hesitate to get in the court and play against us, where he could then point out mistakes as they happened. He was good at boosting confidence and morale. The fact that he is such an accomplished doubles player proved particularly useful, as many of us were playing with new partners at the tournament. Overall, Tom and Paula Clarke (Tyrone) complimented each other well and were a great support to us.”
Forty two year old Sheridan will now refocus his attention to matters inside the four walls and he will once again be one of the favourites to claim the world doubles title in the elite bracket in just under ten months time.
Meanwhile, the new GAA Handball Show series is proving hugely popular and continues every Monday night (8.30pm-9.30pm) on TG4. The action and features continues on Monday 16th January with the highlight being the All Ireland Senior 60×30 Doubles Final with a look at the Irish Nationals in both the 60×30 and 40×20 courts.