This weekend will be a historic one for the Longford handball community, with the biggest handball event ever staged in the county down for decision, writes Paul Fitzpatrick.
Over 300 handballers from around the country will descend on Clonguish and Kilglass Gaels (Roscommon) for the Irish Wallball Nationals, which, in terms of entries, is the biggest handball tournament of the year in Ireland.
Kilglass and Clonguish will jointly host the event, which caters for all grades, from juveniles to recreational adults, elite males and females and overage grades right up to Over 70s.
The progressive Kilglass club is following in a fine tradition in Roscommon. In Longford, new green shoots are emerging as the county's handball scene begins to flourish following a dormant period.
“It's the first time that a Longford club has hosted the competition. Hosting the competition has given the handball community in Longford a boost and it will give us all a chance to see the nation’s elite handballers do battle on our doorstep,” stated Danny Reilly, chairperson of the Longford handball committee.
Handball has seen increased popularity in the county in recent years and this year's Nationals competition includes entries from Clonguish, Drumlish and Abbeylara including last year's U14 finalist Thomas Finn, who will be hoping to go one better this year.
“Longford has a rich history of handball and previously had many alleys but unfortunately the game almost died out in the county, the game eventually surviving only in St Mel's college until the Abbeylara club re-formed in the late 1990s,” Reilly explained.
“Since then, Anna O’Reilly has been the leading figure in the promotion of the game in Abbeylara and Longford and the Abbelara club boasts a state-of-the-art handball facility and generates a steady stream of enthusiastic young handballers who have had plenty of sucess in recent years, including winning at last year’s Féile na nGael competition.”
Handball is growing nationwide, with five Regional Development Officers recently employed and many new clubs springing up as well as dormant clubs re-forming.
In Longford, things are certainly looking up thanks to the work of a progressive committee and lots of grassroots volunteers.
“In 2022, the Longford Handball Board was established as well as two additional clubs, the board's focus is on increasing player numbers and improving facilities,” Reilly said.
“Since 2022, efforts have been focused on reinvigorating some old courts around the county including in St Mel’s and the ‘big alley’ at the former Army barracks in Longford town . There have also been five one wall courts built at Clonguish GAA and Drumlish Sports Hub.”
Following on from this, there are plans in place for an exciting event in Abbeylara next year.
“The outdoor Alley in Abbeylara was built in 1924, which marks 100 years next year, we hope to commemorate this by holding a handball event next year,” stated Abbeylara official Jenny Mahon.
This weekend, some of the best players in the country will be in action including Irish number one wallball player Conor McElduff from Tyrone as well as Cork’s Catriona Casey, the pre-eminent ladies player in the world in all codes.
Action serves off at 9am on Saturday morning and will run through to Sunday evening. Entry is free and spectators are welcome.
View draws and schedules here.