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Losing 4-Wall final has added to motivation for softball decider, says O’Keeffe

Cork’s Catriona Casey and Aishling O’Keeffe have been the pre-eminent doubles team in the sport for over a decade now and with a 10th Senior Softball Doubles title in their sights, O’Keeffe says they are as motivated as ever.

“It’s easy for me to stay motivated because when I was a child I dreamed of winning senior All-Ireland titles,2 explained the Dublin-based Ballydesmond native.

“They don’t come round that often and we don’t know how long our success is going to last and each one is just so meaningful so I think that’s what gives us our constant drive.”

While O’Keeffe and Casey have also won eight senior titles together in the ‘small alley’, losing this year’s decider to Galway’s Ciana Ní Churraoin and Niamh Heffernan in a tiebreaker really stung.

Aishling felt she bring her A game in that final – the Tribeswomen won the deciding set in a shut-out for their first title together – and that has made her hungrier than ever ahead of this Saturday's softball decider against Kilkenny’s Ciara Mahon and Amy Brennan.

“Losing the 40x20 has added to my motivation. We were extremely disappointed to lose the 40x20. I believe I really didn’t play to the best of my potential and that has really motivated me so I’m really eager to make amends next weekend,” she said.

With so many successes over the years, choosing a highlight shouldn’t be easy but Aishling has no hesitation in nominating the 2023 4-Wall Senior Doubles final as her sweetest yet.

“My favourite win definitely has to be winning the first All-Ireland senior title in the new centre in Croke Park in 2023. I’m incredibly proud of myself and Catriona and our comeback to win that day when we were down. We won an 11-10 tiebreaker and just the atmosphere that day was unforgettable and something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

The return to the ‘big alley’ is always something she looks forward to, she said, echoing the sentiments of a number of the other senior players interviewed in recent weeks as the softball season reaches its climax.

“My favourite code of handball would be 60x30. I love just the feel of putting my body behind the ball and the freedom and space to roam around the court. I also love when you go back to 60x30, hitting the ball for the first time. It’s also a special place because it’s where we won our first senior All-Ireland title.”

Unfortunately, this year’s softball ladies championship comes down to a straight final in the doubles, a situation which is disappointing but O’Keeffe believes the future remains bright.

“It’s a shame really that the entries are so low. 60x30 is a great game, it’s a great spectacle for fans.

“The good news is that it looks like there are some promising girls coming up. I’m still happy that women’s handball is in a much better place than it was 10 or 15 years ago.”