A novel ladies senior final is in store this Saturday as Limerick’s Martina McMahon takes on Kikenny’s Ciara Mahon.
The Treaty woman is the reigning champion but, remarkably, this is her first senior final against anyone other than her great rival, Catriona Casey of Cork. The duo have met in the last four 40x20 finals and had qualified for the 2020 renewal back in March before activity came to a halt and they seemed to be on a collision course to face off in the big alley decider for the seventh year in succession.
But Westmeath’s Aoife McCarthy gatecrashed that party when she saw off Casey in the quarter-final and with Mahon subsequently winning their semi, McMahon will face a new foe this weekend.
“All the other years, it would have been myself and Catriona, that was a massive upset to be honest,” McMahon told GAAHandball.ie.
“Obviously with the restrictions, I didn’t see the game. In fairness to Aoife, she has gifted hands. I saw her playing Ciara last weekend, she’s in great shape in fairness to her. But I certainly didn’t see that coming, I would have thought Catriona just had the edge on that one but it’s sport at the end of the day and anything can happen. It shows you can take nothing for granted.”
McMahon will approach the final with that mindset, with Mahon there on merit and in top form.
“Ciara has a never-say-die attitude. She’s fit and I’ll have to be at the top of my own game. It will be a fight to be honest, I got to see her against Aoife and I thought she was playing well.”
Martina’s own training, like everyone else’s, was greatly disrupted but she has prepared as well as possible of late.
“Look, I’ve been doing as much as I can training-wise with all that’s going on. Anything can happen at the end of the day and we won’t be complacent going into any game but I’m just glad I can play with all that has gone on with the virus.
“I have been working from home since March. To be honest, I hate it. It was a novelty at the start, no commute or anything like that, but I find the hours are longer.
I find it hard to switch off. As soon as you turn off the laptop you’re nearly enticed to go back on it again even though there is no need for it. The mental side of it is a lot tougher, you’re not meeting people either, so I’ll be looking forward to going back to the office if we ever do get to go back.
“To be honest it took me a while to get back into it [when handball facilities re-opened]. When the travel restrictions were lifted, it was a great opportunity to travel around Ireland and see places I wouldn’t have the opportunity to see. In handball you are nearly busy every weekend, if you’re not playing you are training, so from that point of view, Covid was advantageous to me, I got to see parts of Ireland I have never seen before.
“That’s how I spent my time, I climbed Carrauntoohil and did stuff like that but no handball. At the start I was missing it and then I was kind of glad of the break for a while but the fight is definitely back and the hunger for the game is back now.”
The three-time big alley champ has stuck to a tried and trusted formula in recent weeks.
“To be honest I stick with the same training routine the whole time. I play against Pat [Murphy] and his two nephews usually but they are both out, one did their cruciate and the other tore ligaments in his knee, so it’s just myself and Pat soldiering on, playing games.
“To be honest, I don’t think it matters who you play, you can always improve something in your game. There are no hidden secrets to it, I know a lot of people would think I would be playing senior men or whatever but no, myself and Pat have got this far so we may as well continue.
“I didn’t think at the start that we’d have any hope of going back and then when the GAA came back, I thought handball would fall in behind. They went back the end of June but we weren’t back till July 20th.
“In that period I was wondering would we get back to play at all but when the road map came out and we could see it in black and white that there was hope, at least we had something to aim for. I find it difficult to get motivated to train if I don’t have something in sight, a goal to aim for.
“After that, it was game on - gloves tied, goggles on, ready to go!”
So far, McMahon has surrendered just three points in her two matches but still feels there is room for improvement.
“You learn from every game you play. It was just my serve that caught Laura [Finn] and Aoife [Holden] out. Every 60x30 court is different, in 40x20 they all play the same way, so my serve might have caught them on the hop. Am I playing well? Not too bad. I thought I played a lot better last year but at the end of the day, we haven’t had much time to train either.
“Everyone is in the same boat, I don’t think any of us have had as much court time as we had in other years but we’ll see how it goes.”
When the 60x30 season ends on Saturday, her focus will turn to the postponed small court final where she will renew rivalries with Casey in December.
“We’ll try get over Saturday before even thinking about 40x20. It will be great if it goes ahead, in my head I’m still thinking about the first weekend in December. It will be difficult because it will be a one-off game now with no lead-up to it but I still have that in the back of my head. But I’ll try to get over this weekend first.”
And despite all her experience, when the door closes in Crinkle on Saturday evening, there will be some tension. Once the game is on, though, and she’s in the flow, it’s just another game.
“A lot of people think I’m laid back and I suppose I kind of give off that vibe but, ah yeah, you would get a few palpitations before the referee says ‘zero-zero’ but once the game starts, that’s it. No nerves whatsoever. It’s just you and your opponent in the court, whatever the result is, it is.
“Once I give it my all, that’s all I can hope for.”
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