Sligo’s Laura Finn was never in any doubt that her recent All-Ireland Senior Singles quarter-final against experience Cork player Aishling O’Keeffe would be closely-contested and so it proved, writes Paul Fitzpatrick.
The match went right to the wire, with the 23-year-old Ballymote woman winning 21-20, 21-18 to become the first player from the Yeats County to reach a Senior Singles semi-final since the great Francis McCann.
“It was great to win, I knew it was going to be a tough game because she beat me in the quarter-final in a tiebreaker last year. I knew it was going to be close again this year so it was great to win,” Laura told GAAHandball.ie.
“It was close and then she went up 19-14 and then 20-17 and I came back and won 21-20. The second game was tight the whole way.
“I got to the Junior small alley final and that was over pretty early this year, around the beginning of March, so I was straight back into the big alley then. I probably got a bit of a headstart on other players, I was playing a lot of big alley from the middle of March right through April and May.”
A trainee accountant (her final exams are in August and she is currently on study leave), Laura divides her time between home and the capital.
“I’m up in Dublin two or three days a week so when I’m up there I usually train in Croke Park and actually funnily enough I trained a good bit with Cuileann Bourke who I’m playing on Saturday when she was up in Dublin too.
“Most of the other girls, actually, who are in the senior are based up in Dublin so I play them the odd time as well. At home in Sligo, I play Travis Gibbons from Colooney a lot and there was a league going on in Sligo and I played that so I got games against the guys back here.”
Handball is very much a family affair for the Finns with Laura’s brothers Cormac – All-Ireland minor champion – and U15 player Colin also heavily involved.
Their local court is a 60x30 and that is her favourite code.
“Definitely the big alley,” she said when asked that question.
“In my club at home, Ballymote, we just have a big alley so I’m kind of just used to playing that growing up… I have grown up playing it and it’s nice that it’s on during the summer. I have had good success in it throughout the years as well so I really like it.”
Sligo handball is on a high at present, with lots of juvenile activity.
“There are loads of kids playing in our own club in Ballymote, in Collooney, Drumcliffe and Castleconnor. Obviously Cormac had a great couple of years and two or three weeks ago, Travis Gibbons from Collooney won the U17 Doubles in the Softball Nationals so that was another great win for Sligo handball. Loads of the juvenile kids are winning Connacht titles now which is great.”
Finn and Bourke haven’t met before in the big court but did clash in the All-Ireland Junior Singles final in the 40x20 court this year.
“Cuileann beat me in the junior small alley final back in March. I think that was the first time we played so it should be a good game on Saturday.
“I wouldn’t feel any extra pressure,” she said, when asked.
“It probably is a good opportunity the way the draw is but no, I don’t feel any extra pressure.”
Having taken up handball following an open day at her national school, she loves the game and especially the camaraderie that goes with it.
“It’s a great sport to keep active and fit and you make so many friends around the country, there are so many opportunities to travel around Ireland outside the country. It’s pretty easy to play and it complements other sports. But making friends I think is the biggest benefit of playing.”
See fixtures here.