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Intriguing final in store between leading lady Casey and rising star Dagg

An intriguing final is in store in the Ladies Senior Softball Singles, writes Paul Fitzpatrick.

When Catriona Casey and Aishling O’Keefe won their 11th Senior Softball Doubles title together as a partnership back on June 1, lifting the new Brídín Uí Mhaolagáin Cup for the first time, Casey described her emotions immediately after the game.

“It feels very sweet, definitely, especially the fashion that we did it in,” she began, paying tribute to the gallant opposition, Ciara Mahon and Amy Brennan from Kilkenny.

Casey and O’Keefe have amassed vast experience together, having been handball partners since they were eight years old.

This year, they were beaten in the 40x20 Senior Doubles final in a tiebreaker against Galway’s Ciana Ní Churraoin and Niamh Heffernan and the pain of that loss drove them on.

“We have been playing together for so long and we definitely were hurt earlier in the year with that tiebreaker,” she said.

“Even though we mentioned the low entries, the quality was there.

“The future is bright for the big alley, definitely, the standard just keeps getting higher and higher so we're trying to hang in there for as long as we can.”

Casey’s choice of words were interesting. There is no suggestion that the Ballydesmond lady is merely “hanging in there” for sure – but there is a sense that the cavalry are coming.

Casey is, at this stage, unquestionably the most successful female handballer of all time, having won practically every major title in the sport in all codes. Her motivation rarely dips but she did ship some losses in 2023 and that seems to have spurred her on to greater heights this year, which is ominous for the opposition.

Casey has vied with the likes of Aisling Reilly, now inactive, and the brilliant Limerick lefty Martina McMahon at various junctures in her career and both have really pushed her hard and beaten her at times.

In the quarter-final, she got the better of McMahon, a wonderful softball player, in straight games and followed up with a win over Mayo’s Cuileann Bourke which indicates that she is in excellent form but new players have gate-crashed the party in recent years.

One of those is Roscommon’s Fiona Tully, who reached her maiden 4-Wall Senior Singles final this year and gave Casey a tough test; another is this afternoon’s opponent, 22-year-old Kildare right-hander Mollie Dagg.

The Leixlip player, a student in Waterford IT, will be playing in her first senior final but what she may lack in experience at this level, she makes up for with athleticism, competitive instinct, will-to-win and an impressive array of shots.

Mollie played doubles with Leah Doyle, who is now a top soccer player in the League of Ireland and hasn’t been able to juggle both sporting pursuits of late, as a juvenile and through minor and enjoyed tremendous success, winning titles all the way up.

Dagg, however, also found time to win an U16 All-Ireland Singles title in the softball code, defeating a strong player in Tyrone’s Mairéad Fox in the final of that competition, which marked her out as a very talented juvenile player in her own right.

Since then, she has kicked on. Coming from a club with a track record of developing outstanding female players, she is the latest off the Leixlip production line and she has really elevated her game through hard work and dedication in the last couple of years.

Last season, Mollie defeated Ciara Mahon – whom Casey applauded for playing so well in this year’s Senior Doubles final and who was a Senior Singles finalist herself in the not-too-distant past – in the All-Ireland Intermediate Singles final, which represented a superb victory.

This season, she took a game off Fiona Tully in the All-Ireland 4-Wall Senior Singles quarter-final; while she ultimately lost 11-4 in the tiebreaker, it was an eye-catching performance and again marked her out as a player of real class and potential, especially when Tully later went on to make the final.

In the softball code, she defeated Aoife Holden and then enjoyed her first ever ‘big alley’ win over the experienced Aoife McCarthy to book her place in the final.

A gutsy, very well-conditioned player, she is unlikely to be over-awed by the occasion, even if she is going in against one of the greatest handballers we have been lucky to watch in the decorated Rebel lady.

An intriguing decider is in store, with Casey certainly the favourite to add yet another Celtic cross to her collection but Dagg – whose results to date have seen her ear-marked as a future senior champion – certainly not just here for the experience.

A proven champion of world-class standing against a gutsy up-and-comer; what more could we want in a final? Maybe Casey was right and the future of the big alley is bright after all.