She may be facing the leading female handballer in the world in Martina McMahon in Saturday's MyClubShop.ie All-Ireland Senior Singles semi-final but rather than being intimidated, Kilkenny's Ciara Mahon says she is looking forward to the challenge, writes Paul Fitzpatrick.
The Clogh player, who is currently studying for a PhD in Health Psychology at Trinity College, came through an excellent match against the experienced Kerry star Ashley Prendiville last time out, winning 21-20, 21-6. The first game alone, during which the players were level nine times, took an hour and that should stand to Mahon as she prepares to take on the champion.
"Yes, it was a very exciting and tightly contested match," Ciara told GAAHandball.ie.
"My approach was to keep the intensity high and place my shots and I was fortunate that they did come off for me on the day. I was very happy to proceed especially after such a close encounter, as it really was anyone’s game."
McMahon, who currently holds every major title in the game, will represent another step-up but Mahon will be focusing on playing her own game.
"Martina has enjoyed outstanding form recently and taking her on is a formidable task, but I am looking forward to the challenge," she said.
"I will approach this game as I do any other and my focus will be on giving my best effort and playing my game rather than the opponent. I am quite the underdog, which I think works to my advantage coming into this game as I have nothing to lose. I will focus on keeping my own work rate high by chasing every ball and taking every opportunity I can in the game."
The traditional 'big alley' game suits Mahon's style of play, she feels. Like her clubmate Shane Dunne, she excels in all codes but specialises in 60x30.
"Coming from the 60x30 stronghold of Kilkenny, 60x30 is my favourite code of handball. I guess I like the pace of the game and skill set required... and it plays to my strength of having a dominant underarm stroke."
Irish female handballers now lead the way on the global stage, with the recent Open Singles at the World Championships the strongest evidence yet of the dominance of players from these shores.
Incredibly, nobody from any other country beat an Irish player, seven of whom made the quarter-finals, in that tournament.
Truly, these are heady days for the ladies game in this country but while Mahon has been impressed with the development of the female code, she feels more can be done to bring it to the next level.
"I think it is fantastic that there is such a high standard in ladies handball and I am particularly impressed by the wealth of talent in the girls that are coming up the ranks from juvenile level," she said.
"I do think ladies handball has come a long way since I started playing in terms of better promotion, more competition opportunities such as She's Ace and a more equal status, for example having Ladies and Men's Open finals on the same schedule.
"However, I do think there are things that could be done to ensure that women feel more valued and equal in the sport, for example, fixing the minor ladies finals for the same schedule as the minor men's finals, having more female representation in leadership positions within GAA handball, developing an inter-county or national level training panel to give girls the opportunity to play other girls and retain interest in the sport, particularly in the juvenile grades."
Ladies Senior Softball Singles
Saturday 15th September – Semi-Finals in Croke Park
- SF1: Cork (Catriona Casey) v Cork (Aishling O’Keeffe)
- SF2: Kilkenny (Ciara Mahon) v Limerick (Martina McMahon)