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Big guns in action as Senior Softball Singles reach last-eight stages

The softball singles season is beginning to come to the boil, with the quarter-finals of the Men’s and Ladies Senior Singles Championships down for decision this weekend at Co Offaly venues Crinkle and Fahy, writes Paul Fitzpatrick.

First up in Crinkle on Saturday (where the programme starts at 11am) is the meeting of last year’s Senior Singles and Doubles finalist Martin Mulkerrins and Kilkenny’s Jack Holden.

The brilliant Mulkerrins, who has been based in Texas in recent years but has competed in the softball code when his schedule allows, defeated former Intermediate Singles champion Brian Mahon 21-18, 2108 last week and the hard-hitting Moycullen man will be fancied to go a long way in the draw here once again.

However, talented dual player Holden, who earned senior status when winning the Intermediate Doubles alongside Kyle Jordan last year, had an excellent tiebreaker win over Gavin Buggy last time out and won’t be fazed by the challenge.

Martin’s brother Diarmuid, who partnered him to the Senior Doubles final last year, has also returned from a sojourn in the States where he competed regularly on the Race4Eight tour. He meets Wexford man Keith Armstrong, who had an outstanding victory over Michael Gregan in an 11-1o tiebreaker in the round of 16.

That extra game should stand to Armstrong while Mulkerrins was handed a walkover by Jordan. A close battle seems likely here.

Defending champion Robbie McCarthy, undoubtedly the number one ‘big alley’ player of the last decade, defeated Cork’s David Walsh 21-7, 21-6 in his opening-round clash and is favourite to win the championship again. His opponent, Shane Dunne, is a former Intermediate winner and senior hardball champion who is a terrific competitor with a high level of conditioning.

Anything other than a win for the ‘Mullingar Maestro’, who has exhibited a complete mastery of the skills of the game during his career, would be regarded as a major upset but Dunne, who won the USHA Collegiates during his time studying at Mankato University in Minnesota, will relish the challenge.

Two of the rising stars meet in the other Men’s quarter-final at Fahy as Sligo’s Cormac Finn takes on Wexford’s Joe Devereux. Former Minor champion Finn, from Ballymote, has been making waves in the big alley for the last couple of years and is tipped as a potential future champion if he can continue to develop.

Devereux, however, is also a very talented player in all codes and an intriguing tie is in store here.

In the ladies Senior Singles quarter-finals, Aoife McCarthy of Westmeath takes on Cork’s Aishling O’Keeffe in Crinkle. O’Keeffe recently won her 11th Senior Softball Doubles medal in tandem with Catriona Casey and loves the softball code but there will be nothing easy against McCarthy, who is one of only a handful of active players who boasts a championship win over Casey on her CV and is capable of performing at a very high level.

Elsewhere, Mayo’s former finalist Cuileann Bourke, a powerful right-hander from Belcarra, meets young Wexford player Jodie Keeling in what should be another interesting contest. Keeling was an outstanding minor player and is looking to make her mark at senior level, with the hard-hitting Bourke known for her never-say-die attitude so a good match is promised here.

In the penultimate tie, another talented younger player, Mollie Dagg of Kildare, takes on Kilkenny’s Aoife Holden (Kilfane). Holden had an excellent tiebreaker win over the in-form Ciara Mahon, who played so well in the recent Senior Doubles decider, last time out while Dagg, who forced Fiona Tully to a tiebreaker in the 40x20 Senior Championship, has been close to a breakthrough at the top level of late. Both ladies will see this as a good opportunity to advance to the last four of the Senior Singles.

Finally, the tie of the round pits former winners Catriona Casey and Martina McMahon against each other. Neither player needs any introduction; both are among the greatest the sport has produced.

Casey, who has won more or less everything there is to win in the sport, recently added another Senior Doubles and has been playing as well as ever. McMahon was excellent in claiming the Open Singles title at the Irish Softball Nationals in Wexford and – perhaps ominously for her opponents – admitted afterwards that she is still not at 100pc as she battles her way back from a serious injury.

The citeog, an aggressive shooter who will kill the ball from anywhere, matches up well with the Cork woman style-wise but Casey’s experience and class is not in doubt and despite her glittering haul of medals, her motivation has not waned.

An epic clash seems very possible here with two of handball’s superstars clashing for a place in the last four.

Click here for fixtures.