Three years ago Meath man Gary McConnell claimed the Intermediate Softball All-Ireland with a very classy win over Galway's Martin Mulkerrins in Abbeylara.
Fast forward to 2017 and the Kells club man is eager to stamp his mark on the Senior ranks as he prepares for a QF showdown with good friend Gavin Buggy (Wexford) in Thurles on Saturday. He has shown great promise in the current Softball season, and is a very exciting player to watch as he mixes his power play with exquisite soft touches around the front court.
Just a fortnight ago he took out Joe McCann in the Round of 16, before losing out 11-10 in the tiebreak to club mate Brian Carroll in the match of the tournament at the 60x30 Nationals. It really was a match that wowed the spectators with the constant twists and turns on the scoreline, and although McConnell wasn't overly happy with the outcome, it will no doubt stand him in great steed for the Championship.
"I wasn't really happy after the way the Nationals went for me I was was looking at semi final stage in my head but that's Handball for you. I had a brilliant game with Brian in the QF and it couldn't get any closer with 11-10 tiebreaker. I just got back into the gym, put it to the back of my head and trained hard coming up to the Championship."
Last weekend he carried his fine form into the Championship, coming from behind to take out Limerick's CJ Fitzpatrick 13-21, 21-6, 21-16.
"To be honest going down to play CJ was always going to be a battle. I have trained very hard from January for the 60x30 session and I new myself if I played my own game I had a great chance in beating him. I was just delighted with the win and gained a lot of confidence from it."
That sets up this weekends match with Buggy, who himself has really impressed in this seasons campaign; winning the Leinster Senior Singles, and reaching the Irish 60x30 Nationals Final, losing out only to 9 time All-Ireland Champion Eoin Kennedy.
"Gavin is a good friend of mine and I'm really looking forward to playing him on Saturday. We have never met before in a competitive match, but it should be a great game hopefully. I feel like my game is in good stead and am confident of progressing."
As a former Intermediate winner, McConnell must be looked at as one of the younger players coming through who must step up and start to challenge the elite. The Softball code has been dominated by Eoin Kennedy & Robbie McCarthy over the last decade, having to go back as far as 2008 to the last time it wasn't a Kennedy/McCarthy Final, and even further back to 2003 to the last time neither of them won the title.
And whilst expressing his respect to both Eoin & Robbie as great players, it is refreshing to see a talented young player refusing to be intimidated by their achievements, in fact being eager to get on court with the champion!
"Robbie and Eoin are two truly brilliant players and have been for the many years. I mean their records speak for themselves. But I know one thing, if I beat Gavin on Saturday I can't wait to play McCarthy in a potential SF."