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McMahon: ‘The All-Ireland is in the past, it’s all about the Worlds now’

A few months on from her maiden All-Ireland 40x20 Senior Singles success and Limerick's Martina McMahon is rearing to go again, writes Paul Fitzpatrick.

The Broadford woman (23), who stunned reigning champion Catriona Casey to seal the biggest win of her career on St Patrick's Day last, flew to Minneapolis as joint-captain of Team Ireland on Tuesday last and, she told, she's determined to add a second major title for the season.

“Training has been going well to be honest. I find it hard enough to get games so I'm sticking with the local lads in Broadford Handball Club, trying to vary it up, go as hard as I can with different lads from the club in singles and focusing on certain shots. Hopefully it will all come together,” stated Martina a couple of days before she departed for the States.

McMahon, a former Limerick minor and intermediate camogie star, hung up her camán five years ago to concentrate solely on handball and that decision has paid off. She has been crowned queen of Irish handball in wallball, 60x30 and 40x20 already but, she says, the Worlds will represent a new challenge.

“I think it's the toughest field in a female World Championships that I have ever seen. The American females are definitely coming up, I do think the Irish have that little bit of an edge over them still but I wouldn't under-estimate any of them because they're slowly catching up on us,” she said.

“The likes of Aimee Tuohy, Suzanne Kohler, Tracy Davis, they are the names that have been there for a few years now and they're knocking on the door. As I said, it's probably the toughest group of players I've ever come across and you have to take every game as if it's the final. You can't go in complacent against anyone.”

The All-Ireland win took a while to sink in, she admitted.

“That was a nice one to get. I had been creeping up for a number of months, trying to get closer and closer to Aisling [Reilly] and Catriona [Casey] and to win it was a dream come true. Every underage player wants to win a senior title.

“I was quite emotional afterwards, it's something we dream of and to have a dream become a reality is something surreal. I just hope that the Worlds will become a reality as well.”

Having followed her brother to the local handball alley in Broadford as a child, Martina quickly fell in love with the game.

“The minute I stepped into the court. I remember, we were playing lines and there were about 20 kids in the alley and you'd be waiting 20 minutes to get in and serve the ball. We'd only be training for the hour so you might get in three times.

“I remember on my second or third week, it was winner stays on and when I won a rally I stayed on. After I won a few rallies I thought to myself, jeez, I actually have a love for this game, I might be handy enough at it.

“Then I started entering championships and when I started winning a couple, the love for it grew fonder and fonder. I played inter-county camogie until five years ago but I had to make a decision. “It was tough to keep college going, travelling an hour each way into UL, then playing county camogie and handball, I was out seven days a week, maybe playing handball in the morning, camogie in the evening. I was on the verge of burning out so I had to make a cut.”

The manner in which McMahon saw off the magnificent Casey in a 21-20 third-game thriller in the All-Ireland final (the Limerick lady pulled off a fly kill from 30 feet to get into the service box and won it with a backwall rollout) caught the imagination of the handball public.

That attacking style is a feature of her game and she won't be changing it any time soon, she smiled.

“I like watching [Paul] Brady and Mondo [Ortiz], all I see is the bottom brick and if you have a chance to go for it, you have to go for it. The main thing when you're an aggressive player like that is that you have to believe that you are going to get that shot. If you don't believe that you are going to hit it clean, it won't come off.

“The last shot to win the All-Ireland final, I just said to myself it's all or nothing here, I have to go for it. I believed I could kill it so I killed it. It's risky business really but once you believe you can get the shot, you'll get the shot.

“For spectators too, watching an aggressive player is much more enjoyable. I enjoy watching them so I try to bring some of their game into my game.”

Martina feels that female handball is very much on the rise and is appreciative of the efforts of GAA Handball to promote equality.

“Women's sport in general is getting more media coverage than in the past. I still think men have a slight advantage over us but I can't complain from a handball point of view. In handball, I feel it's 50-50, we get as much promotion as the men do and that's great to see.

“In the GAA as a whole, I still think there's more that can be done but I'm happy with the set-up in GAA Handball.

“In terms of the standard, the underage players now seem to be playing more intelligently and have evolved, they have all the shots, their left and right hands are equal. In another couple of years, we'd all want to be watching our backs, there are some great youngsters coming up behind us. It's great to see girls sticking at it and developing their skills and the enjoyment they get out of it.

A Technology Transport Engineer in Cork, the talented McMahon thinks deeply about the game and echoes Brady in her mental approach. Desire is what will separate the champion from the rest of the field this week, she reckons.

“I think belief and determination and the drive will be the difference... It will come down to how badly you want it.

“The All-Ireland is in the past now. All I'm focusing on now is the worlds, I want to win that singles title and that's my main area of focus now.”