This Saturday is set to host what will potentially be one of the most gripping semi-finals that GAA Handball has played host to so far. Encompassing all the ingredients needed for a build-up, this game hosts a living legend, tormented by injury and a young star, grappling to reach the shining lights of All-Ireland glory.
We start with the latter, Martina McMahon. Though the Limerick native is relatively ‘new’ to senior All-Ireland pressure in the small alley – she sure doesn’t act like it. McMahon rose to the occasion in last year’s Senior Singles All-Ireland final in the hallowed ground of Kingscourt, wowing the crowd with her tremendous accuracy and impressive power. However, on that occasion the sharp shooter, Catriona Casey, proved too much to handle and came out victorious in a two-game decider.
On the other side of the ring, Antrim’s Asiling Reilly will be no stranger to centre stage semi-finals at this point appearing in seven Senior Singles 40x20 All-Ireland finals to date. Having tasted sweet victory on two of those occasions, Reilly will be sure to be ruthless in her attack on young-gun McMahon with every ounce of strength she has.
What makes this game so interesting to Handball enthusiasts is the similarity that both these athletes share in their style of play. Both McMahon and Reilly share a strong physical and psychological presence in the alley, dominating their opponents with raw power and tenacity. Crowds have been left wanting more as these Handball experts show their sheer strength and skill by hammering balls off the backwall to rebound back to the front wall, their endurance by long roof shot rallies and the crack of the ball off the front wall when that elusive kill-shot opportunity final presents itself.
On their most recent outing – it was exactly the type of drama that one would expect. The 2017 Nationals saw these two athletes face off against one another at the semi-final stage. What started as a land-slide 15-1 win in the first game for McMahon, quickly turned to a nail biting third game decider. What Reilly showed in this outing was just what it takes to be the best, she saw one slight weakness and exposed it to completely throw off the confidence of McMahon and showed that not only is she back, she’s here to win. On this occasion, McMahon showed real character and Moxy by overcoming Reilly 15-14 in the third and final game.
Adding to the long list of variables in this pressure-cooker, is the knowledge that the winner will move forward not only to a Senior Singles All-Ireland final, but have the opportunity to be part of Team Ireland in the 2018 World Championships. As reigning champion, Reilly will surely have this as an extra incentive in her arsenal. However, as McMahon has shown over these past months, she too is more than capable of shining bright on American soil.
Whatever the outcome may be, this game is already ‘one for the ages’, and is something that should not be missed.
For a full list of the semi-final schedules, please click here.