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Mahon hoping to upset the odds

She may be only 20 years old (turning 21) but Kilkenny handballer Ciara Mahon is not afraid to embrace a challenge. Earlier this summer, she decided to try out something new to maintain her fitness in the handball off-season – so, as you do, she took up triathlons.

“I just enjoyed running and I wanted something to do over the summer, it was something I'd wanted to do for years and I decided I'd just do it,” she says, matter-of-factly.

“You can go off any day for a run or a cycle or a swim and you don't have to depend on other people, it's just a way of getting out and enjoying exercise.”

Her first event was the Dublin City Triathlon back in June.

“You start off with a kilometre and a half of a swim, half is upstream in a river and half is downstream. Then you do a 40k cycle and finish off with a 10k run,” she explained.

“It's a different type of fitness on a court, there's a lot of sprinting in handball as opposed to a young slog.”

The mental qualities required – endurance, courage – are similar, although Ciara, former hockey player, laughs away suggestions that her studies (she is a third year psychology student in Trinity College) might be an advantage in her sporting career.

“I wish! No, unfortunately not. It's probably more of a hindrance than a help! No, it doesn't really filter in it at all, you can read it but it's hard to apply it to yourself. No, I wouldn't say it has any impact on my mental approach to the game.

“There's a lot of independent work involved [in the course], you have to do a lot of researching yourself But I enjoy it, I find it interesting and once that's the case you don't mind doing the work.”

On the court, the Clogh player has made significant progress since winning the Intermediate Singles last year. A fortnight ago, she saw off Kerry star Ashley Prendiville 21-11, 10-21, 21-16 in Tuamgraney and will meet Limerick's Martina McMahon in her first senior semi-final on Saturday in Abbeylara.

“I played Ashley two weekends ago. I was delighted with it, I played very well, I was very happy. Ashley is a great player so it was a good win for me.”

She is familiar with the talented McMahon, too.

“I played her in the Minor Championship a couple of years ago now and it was quite a close game, I think it was a tiebreaker, in the semi-finals, so I'm hoping to get one up this time.

“But we've met each other regularly in all courts. She's usually got the upper hand so I'm hoping to turn it around this weekend but we'll see.

“Left-handers are unique, there aren't many of them and it's always different to play them but I think I'll be able to manage it. She is playing very well so it will be an interesting game.

“I didn't go to the Worlds so I focused a lot on 60x30, I prefer it anyway, it's my favourite game. I was in Dublin working for the summer so I was getting a lot of game time.”

That is needed if she is to break into the top handful of senior stars.

“The standard is just so high in the Senior Championship, there are some fantastic players. It's very hard to get anywhere in it, it's really competitive and Cathriona and Aisling are there at the top, it's an exhibition to watch them.”

An advocate of the big alley code (“in Kilkenny we have the tradition of 60x30 and as a juvenile that would have been our focus, I like 40x20 as well but I just think 60x30 is a nicer game, I like the style of it more”), she hopes to make waves at the top level in the coming years - and maybe even sooner.

“That's the big ambition, I'd love to get up there to the top. Climbing the ladder is the big ambition at the moment, just trying to get ahead, one step up each time. I'll be very happy to keep going and push on and hopefully get a senior title out of it – even this year! Why not?”

Why not, indeed.

Interview by Paul Fitzpatrick

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