By Paul Fitzpatrick
In handball, the wheel tends to come full circle. For those familiar with the juvenile handball scene 25-odd years ago, the make-up of last year’s Leinster U12 Singles final would have brought back a wave of nostalgia.
In it, Anthony Clifford of Kilkenny – son of Timmy – and Rory Goff of Wexford – son of Barry – met. Both of their Dads are decorated players who had outstanding careers.
“It’s the like the cycle has begun again. I used to play Timmy in Leinster finals and now the two sons are playing in Leinster finals. I have two girls and a boy and they’ve all got into it so I’m passing the baton on the next generation I suppose,” Barry told GAAHandball.ie this week.
We bring up Barry’s son Rory because in a roundabout way, he’s been a key figure in his father returning to the All-Ireland Senior Singles semi-final. With wins over Ger Coonan and Diarmuid Mulkerrins, Goff has propelled himself into the last four where Martin Mulkerrins stands between him and a return to the final.
And it was thanks to Rory that he has got himself into the best physical condition he has been in in some years, he smiles.
“The draw was sort of kind to me really,” Barry said.
“I thought I could have ran into Robbie or Martin a lot earlier so the games gave me a chance to progress really.
"But I was focusing on the doubles. We got to the Senior Doubles semi-final last year. Tommy [Hynes] had asked me the year before to play but I was injured so I said I’d play with him last year but I kind of wasn’t fit enough to play it really. After we got beaten in the semi-final last year, I said I’d put in a good effort this year and get fitter to be better for Tommy in the Senior Doubles than I was in the semi-final last year.
“That was the plan really. I was back playing in the big court in March and then lockdown came. During lockdown, it was great for me personally, every evening when I went home in Aprill, May my young lad Rory was waiting to go running with me. He became my trainer for three months during lockdown!
“So I am fitter this year than I have been for a long time.Rory is 12 now and he has got into handball. He was getting programmes and we were going out to do them. He couldn’t believe I was able to keep up with him doing some of them!
“I got to race him around a 5km block at home and he was putting me through my paces. He was surprised that his daddy was able to keep up with him.
“He’s big into sport which is great for me, it’s like watching a mini me growing up. He has great interest in the hurling and he’s getting into the handball now as well.”
The sporting genes have obviously been handed down; Rory will line out in a Leinster U13 final in Garryhill on Saturday afternoon as well while his 'old man' does battle up the road in Crinkle.
Barry himself has been sharpened up by some useful training matches as well as winning the Wexford county Senior Singles for the first time since 2017.
“In fairness to the county board in Wexford, we probably have the best-run county championships in the country. It’s probably why a lot of us elder statesmen are still playing. You have games to play, the fixtures come out and you just go and play your games.
“It’s probably why Gavin, Tommy and myself are playing so long, you don’t have to go organise games, the county board arrange your senior fixtures and you go play them so it’s a training match every week for you.
“Tommy was going for three in a row this year. He beat me in a great final last year and again, I was probably caught for fitness but Tommy was playing very well last year.
“The main objective this year was to get the county title back rather than progress in the All-Ireland series.”
His main sparring partner has been Hynes along with a number of other quality local players.
“I play Tommy once a week normally but there are good competitive lads around here in intermediate and junior grades like Paul Lambert and David Kenny who would give you good games too.
“I’m working in the village of Castlebridge so I can just pop over in the evenings and get a game before I go home, it’s handy for me and I’ve been getting a good lot of games with the local lads since we got back in the alley. I got a few games with Michael Gregan as well which was great.”
As a teenager, Goff was one of the very best juveniles and minors in both codes of handball but in latter years, he has concentrated on the traditional game.
“I won the [40x20] intermediate in 2003, I beat Charly Shanks in that final but in ’04, ’05 and ’06 I was involved with the county hurling panel so I didn’t play small alley during the winter when the heavy programme of training would be going on. In ’04 and ’05 I played the big alley championships, I was fit from the hurling. That’s when I would have got to the senior finals in ’04 and ’05.”
Goff lost those finals (17, 16 and 20, 6) against Eoin Kennedy and when he looks back, he admits, it’s a source of regret that he didn’t win at least one Senior Singles, although he's not done yet.
“It’s funny. I was on holidays in Portugal two years ago and I met Tony Healy. We got into the discussion and I was saying to him that it’s a big regret that I don’t have a Senior Singles title because most of the chaps in my minor grade all won Senior Singles.
“Paul Brady, Eoin Kennedy, Tony Healy, they all won Senior Singles so I was the one to miss out. But at that time, Eoin was concentrating on handball and I was trying to hurl as well as play handball.
“It would be a regret that I didn’t concentrate on the handball fully and get over the line. I think Eoin got a few handy ones after ’04 and ’05, if I had been around… ’06 is a big regret especially, Tom Sheridan beat me in the final. He should have probably beaten Eoin in the final because the final was played after the World Championships on the night before the hurling final but the semi-finals had been played in June.
“Eoin had been playing 40x20 and he probably should have been caught in ’06 by Tom. I would have had 10 weeks training done in the big alley while he was playing the Worlds.
“Tom Sheridan in ’06 caught me in the semi-final so I hope I’ll be the same against Martin now on Saturday and be able to catch him out. The wily old competitor that Sheridan was caught me out when I was probably the same age that Martin is now this weekend.”
Goff’s goal for the year was the doubles and he makes no secret of his disappointment that it’s not going ahead.
“There always seems to be a surprise or two in the doubles, myself and Tommy, no-one would have expected us to beat Eoin and Carl Browne in the quarter-final last year for example. There’s always the potential for a shock in the doubles whereas Eoin and Robbie have won every championship in the singles for the last 17 years.
“Anyone that watches handball loves doubles, the games are competitive. I’d be very disappointed that it didn’t go ahead and I think that’s the general feeling of the senior players in the country, they are all very disappointed.”
Goff is aware of the formidable challenge Martin Mulkerrins will pose when they lock horns on Saturday but he’s confident in his own ability. Rest assured, he won’t be travelling just to fulfil the fixture.
“Martin and Robbie have proved that they’re probably the two best handballers in the country over the last number of years. Especially with Eoin missing this year, the reigning champion, they are probably the two best in the country so it will be another step up in class I suppose.
“It could be my last chance, lockdown gave me a great chance to get fit this year. I don’t know if I’ll be as lucky next year, I’ll be bringing the children round to their matches again and I won’t be able to train every night, I won’t be looking at Rory’s heels!
“This could be my last chance at it, that’s the way I’m looking at it. I’ve got as fit as I have probably in the last 15 years now this year so I’ll be looking to try and get to the final. Am I in bonus territory? Well, if I got to the final, I’d be in bonus territory then…”
All 4 Senior SF's will be lived streamed HD & Free this Saturday 26th Sept at 12noon on GAA Handball's Facebook page.
@ Crinkle HC, Offaly, 12noon
- Ladies SF 1: Limerick (Martina McMahon) v Kilkenny (Aoife Holden)
- Ladies SF 2: Kilkenny (Ciara Mahon) v Westmeth (Aoife McCarthy) @ 1pm
- Men’s SF 1: Westmeath (Robbie McCarthy) v Meath (Gary McConnell) @ 2pm
- Men’s SF 2: Wexford (Barry Goff) v Galway (Martin Mulkerrins) @ 3pm