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Cork and Galway take maiden titles in SD finals

Paul Fitzpatrick at Croke Park

In the end, the reaction of Michael Hedigan said it all. After he killed the final ball to end an instant classic of an All-Ireland Senior Doubles final, the Liscarroll man sank to his knees, head in his hands, in relief and jubilation.

This one, a maiden 4-wall Senior Doubles crown, meant a lot to the Rebels – everything, in fact. In an interview during the week, Hedigan stated that winning an All-Ireland Senior Doubles was a lifelong goal for he and partner Daniel Relihan – and now they had done it.

And they did it in the most dramatic fashion possible, too, defeating the brilliant Clare pairing of Diarmaid Nash and Colin Crehan in an 11-10 tiebreaker.

This was an absolute cracker of a match, with Cork winning 17-21, 14-21, 11-10 in a game instantly recognised as a classic.

Nash and Crehan, aiming for their fourth title, started well, with the explosive Crehan finding his range on kills but after dropping game one, the Liscarroll men came roaring back to tie the game.

Relihan’s attacking play and Hedigan’s “thou shalt not pass” right-side masterclass saw them force a ‘breaker – and there was little to choose between them in the race to 11, with neither side able to pull away and each rally bitterly contested.

Clare were serving, with two hands in, at 10-9 in the tiebreaker but Cork got them out of the service box with a perfect straight pass down the left by Relihan and then the shot of the day, a 35-foot flat left-handed kill, from shoulder height, by Hedigan.

Relihan almost won it with a trademark tomahawk only for Nash to somehow dig it out but Hedigan made no mistake to seal the win with a kill in the left corner.

It was cruel on the outstanding Bannermen but the margins at the top level are extremely fine.

“We don’t tend to do things easily. We just said we’d keep fighting,” said Relihan.

“We knew the Clare boys were going to get on top at certain parts of the game but we said we’d keep our heads.

“Colin especially, he’s a shooter and he can hit a purple patch at any time really so we just had to keep the heads, keep doing what we were doing. We had a game plan and we stuck to it.”

Relihan, notably, is now believed to be the first player to win 40x20 titles at both Junior B and Senior Championship level in men’s handball, completing a meteoric rise through the ranks.

Meanwhile, the Ladies Senior Doubles final was also a superb affair.

Cork’s Catriona Casey and Aishling O’Keeffe were gunning for an eighth Senior Doubles title in the 4-wall code and looked on course when they won the first game 21-18 but the Galway combination won the second 21-15 to force a tiebreaker, which they won emphatically, 11-0.

The hurt of losing their first senior final together drove them on, said former Galway underage camogie star Heffernan, from Claregalway.

“In my opinion we should have won that (the 2023 final) as well. Aishling and Catriona are very good players and there’s a reason why they have won it the last good few years. For me personally, it has haunted me ever since,” admitted the 22-year-old.

Ní Churraoin, a 27-year-old sports psychologist who plays for the Micheál Breathnachs club, added: “Niamh texted me the next day and I was like, ‘come on, next year’.”

Dual star Ní Churraoin, who scored two goals for Galway minor ladies footballers in their All-Ireland ‘A’ final win over Dublin in 2014, will now attempt to retain her Singles title, which she won last year by beating Casey for the first time, also in a tiebreaker.

Elsewhere, both Minor titles went to Kilkenny. Anthony Clifford and John Hayes defeated Gavin Kelly and Caleb Donnellan of Galway (21-11, 21-18) while Katie Brennan and Holly Byrne were victors over Aoibe Ní Chadhain and Sile Ní Chonghaile, also from Galway (21-1, 21-5).

The matches were streamed live on the Sport TG4 YouTube page, as part of a new agreement which has also seen handball, in its centenary year, return to national television, with highlights each Monday night on TG4.

Next up is the All-Ireland Senior Singles, which serves off next weekend at regional venues.