Catriona Casey certainly had a stellar 2016, and after picking up her GAA Handball Female Player of the Year for 2016 at last weekend’s All-Star Awards in Tullamore, the Ballydesmond star spoke to GAAHandball.ie ahead of the upcoming O’Neill’s All-Ireland Championships.
“Yeah it’s been a great year. I think I have learned to enjoy the good times more as well now. It got off to a great start in the small alley, and I actually went unbeaten for the year in 40x20, so that was obviously a big goal of mine.”
“I was delighted to win the All-Ireland 40x20 Singles again having lost the previous two finals. It was a long wait to get it back after a great battle with Aisling (Reilly) in the final.”
As well as her dominance in Singles, Casey also claimed the doubles in the 40x20 & 60x30 with partner Aishling O’Keeffe, and an “unexpected win in the first Wall-Ball All-Ireland which was nice”, so clearly she was deserving of her POTY award.
The opening event of 2017 was the She’s Ace Ladies Festival Weekend in Mayo in mid January, where Casey & Limerick’s Martina McMahon served up a thrilling final, where McMahon defeated Casey for the first time in the small court, in a gripping 11-8 tiebreak.
It is a rare enough occasion these days when Catriona has to deal with a defeat, but she was as articulate and gracious as ever when asked to reflect on the loss.
“It was a good tournament and a good turnout for the ladies. I had five games (1 x 25) on the Saturday so it was definitely a test of fitness and good prep for Championship. “
“But look Martina is playing very well, and I knew that since the latter stages of last year. If I had of won it I wouldn’t have read into it too much, so I am not going to look into it too much now that I lost the final either.”
“I was listening to Joe Schmidt (Ireland Rugby Head Coach) on the radio the other day and he was saying they can change the result (Scotland loss) but they can work towards a better performance the next time, so that’s the goal and Championship is the big one!”
So the Championship is the big one and Casey has reached the final in each of the last four years, which counts for every year she has played Senior Handball, despite it feeling like she has been around forever.
She has a 50% win ratio in those four finals, losing two to great rival Aisling Reilly of Belfast. Reilly will not stand in her way this year however after being forced out with an injury, which many would obviously feel of advantage to Casey in her bid to retain her crown.
“It disappointing to hear Aisling has withdrawn. People may think I would be delighted but I am definitely not. It is a pity because you want all the best players to be playing, but it doesn’t really change much for me really because there is still really huge challenges there so hopefully I can retain.”
Among those is Down’s Lorraine Havern, who will be the first player to stand in Casey’s way in this Saturday’s QF in Cullohill HC, Laois from 3pm.
But Casey has set herself lofty ambitions for 2017, with solidary wins here and there simply not enough. No, she wants to win everything!
“My main goal is to win the 40x20 & 60x30 Singles & Doubles. The last three years I have won three out of the four, and I don’t think the clean sweep has ever been done before in the same calendar year so that’s a big goal.”
Casey will start as favourite alright for the 2017 O’Neills All-Ireland Singles Championship, which will feature a first time finalist given the fact that only Casey in the field has previously reached the decider.