A fantastic showcase of the very best in GAA Handball was viewed by huge crowds at the annual 2017 Lough Wallball Showdown in Loughmacrory last weekend.
With 227 of the best players in Ireland, from 19 different counties, and 293 matches played over a massive weekend programme from Friday to Sunday, it is not difficult to see why this has established itself as one of the best "100% Volunteer Run" Events in the Country.
The Adman Men's and Ladies Open finals took centre stage on Saturday night for the first time and provided a wonderful social occasion for the massive crowd which packed into Loughmacrory's impressive covered One Wall Arena. The rain outside did little to dampen a splendid atmosphere in which the four players involved served up two of the best finals seen in the sport anywhere this year.
The Ladies Open Final was first on the card and saw 2016 champion, Armagh's Megan McCann, bid to retain the title she won last season. At just 17 years of age she faced the brilliant recent Irish Nationals Open Champion and Limerick's Martina McMahon really has excelled in the national and international stage in recent times.
This was a game laced with incredible pinpoint power serving down the lines, highest quality power passing and some fantastic long range kill shots. Ultimately there was little to separate the top class duo throughout and they were deadlocked at 20-20 after a series of blistering and enthralling rallies. In the end, though it was the immense experience of the Irish Nationals Champion to direct some superb offensive play in the closing exchanges to close out the match, and the title, on a 25-22 score line.
The packed crowd was buzzing from such a fantastic Ladies Open Final and within minutes of the ensuing Men's Open decider, it was clear that a 'GAA Handball Classic' was on the cards.
Armagh's Charly Shanks had lost narrowly to Tyrone's Conor McElduff in the recent Irish Nationals Men's Open Final in Castlebar and set his stall out very quickly in the rematch at the Lough Showdown.
Shanks' low hard serving was of a truly exceptional quality when the final got underway and he consistently followed up with awesome pass and kill shots. His incredible start did not relent either for some time and when he opened up a 15-3 advantage the massive crowd looked on in amazement as the Tyrone star faced defeat for the first time in over 12 months. What was still significant though, even in that dominant Shanks spell, was the fact the Irish Nationals and All Ireland Senior Wallball Champion was chasing down and retrieving almost everything that was being fired at him. As the relentless rallies began eating into the Armagh player's energy reserves, McElduff was beginning to find his own rhythm and range. And so began the remarkable comeback.
An astonishing lob to the back corner, a 35 foot cross court roll-out, an 80mph straight pass down the right line were just some of the astonishing winning shots delivered as McElduff closed the gap to 12-20. And then came the onslaught. McElduff, in the remaining minutes of play, showed just why he has become the best that Ireland has seen in a One Wall Court. An exceptional controlled delivery of shots followed and the Breacach clubman racked up 13 consecutive points to secure a second Lough Showdown title on a 25-20 score line.
There is no doubt that everyone was treated to a spectacular double of finals action on Saturday night and it brought the crowd in their droves again throughout Sunday's full programme of action.
Most of the highlights came in a series of brilliant Junior ties throughout the finals day.
The Boys Under 10 and 11&U titles went the way of Carrickmore's Shea Munroe and Loughmacrory's Eoin Donaghy respectively. Munroe had a terrific win against last year's winner, Galway's Gavin Kelly while Eoin Donaghy showed amazing form to deny Monaghan's Seán Callan and Louth's Jack Devlin in the 11s final.
The Boys 13&U final brought some of the best handball of the entire weekend from two of the most exciting young players in the game. Kilkenny's Kyle Jordan secured his second successive Showdown title with a 22-15 win against Galway's Mikey Kelly. The latter was most unlucky though as he had gone over on his ankle at 15-17 and eventually had to retire at the end.
In the Bots 15&U Grade, Galway's Jason O'Toole claimed his 3rd Showdown title in a row as he edged out Loughmacrory's Dara Curran in a thrilling contest by 19-14. Galway's Peter Donohue then followed that up by taking the Boys 17&U title also to Inis Mor, in what was his first trip to the Tournament, with a fantastic 25-10 win against Cork's Cian O'Driscoll.
In the Girls Junior grades, the host club picked up both the Under 10 and 11&U titles following some terrific games. Aine Curran won a thrilling Under 10 final against Greencastle's Caislean Treacy by 25-24 and Laura Duff took the 11&U title with a final win against Tara Curran.
Clare's Chloe Philpott emerged a very impressive winner of the Girls 13&U title when denying Tyrones Clodagh Munroe in an excellent final while Armagh's Caioliosa NI Dhuill secured the Girls 15&U honours with a 23-12 win against Antrim's Carragh Shannon in the final.
Across the Adult grades, there was also some terrific games over the weekend. There was Adult title wins in the A grades for Antrim, Tyrone, Cork, Kildare and Down.
Cork's David Walsh had an eye-catching win over Louth's Ben Devlin in the Men's A while the Men's B title went to Antrim's Jordan O'Neill. Antrim also took the honours in the Masters A Singles as Paul Graham defeated Tyrone's Eamon McCrory by 22-17. The host club's Chris Curran won the Silver Masters A with a final win over Monaghan's Paul Cassidy, the latter having defeated Irish Nationals Champion, Niall Kerr in the semi final. The Men's C Singles and Men's Challenger titles went to Cork with Gearoid O'Connell and Brooklyn Hickey taking those titles. Down's Anthony Cowan defeated Tyrone's Barry Fox to secure the Men's Contender title for 2017.
In the Ladies A grade, Kildare teenager, Leah Doyle, defeated Antrim's Fiona Shannon in the final while Loughmacrory's Clare Conway picked up the Ladies B title with a final win over Carragh Shannon. Breacach's Cloideach Donaghy got the better of Down's Mary Havern to win the Ladies C and Down's Michelle McCoy won her first Showdown title with a final win against Tyrone's Laura Tuohey.
Overall this proved to be another fantastic spectacle and the host club will continue their special year celebrations in November with the launch of their book "150 Years of GAA Handball and Counting".
Adult grades Final Results:
- Men's A Final: David Walsh (Cork) dft Ben Devlin (Louth) 25-12
- Men's B Final: Jordan O'Neill (Antrim) dft Mark Rainey (Antrim) 21-8
- Masters A Final: Paul Graham (Antrim) dft Eamonn McCrory (Tyr) 22-17
- Silver Masters A Final: Chris Curran (Tyrone) dft Paul Cassidy (Monaghan) 24-16
- Men's C Final: Gearoid O'Connell (Cork) dft Dermot Boyle (Mon) 25-4
- Men's Challenger Final: Brooklyn Hickey (Cork) dft Sean McCrory (Tyrone) 25-11
- Ladies A Final: Leah Doyle (Kildare) dft Fiona Shannon (Antrim) 23-15
- Ladies B Final: Clare Conway (Tyrone) dft Carragh Shannon (Antrim) 22-14
- Ladies C Final: Cloideach Donaghy (Tyrone) dft Mary Havern (Down) 18-16
- Ladies Challenger Final: Michelle McCoy (Down) dft Laura Tuohey (Tyrone) 22-8
- Masters B Final: Seán Devine (Antrim) dft Billy Caddell (Louth) 13-12
- Silver Masters B Final: George Miller (Mayo) dft Pat Murphy (Limerick) 18-16
- Men's Contender Final: Anthony Cowan (Down) dft Barry Fox (Tyrone) 18-15
- Ladies Contender Final: Eilish Owens (Tyr) dft Catherine Kelly (Tyr) 25-14
Junior grades Final Results:
- Boys U10 A Final: Shea Munroe (Tyrone) dft Gavin Kelly (Galway) 25-18
- Boys 11&U A Final: Eoin Donaghy (Tyr) dft Jack Devlin Murtagh (Louth) 25-10
- Boys 13&U A Final: Kyle Jordan (Kilkenny) dft Mikey Kelly (Galway) 22-15
- Boys 15&U A Final: Jason O'Toole (Galway) dft Dara Curran (Tyrone) 18-14
- Boys 17&U A Final: Peter Donohue (Galway) dft Cian O'Driscoll (Cork) 25-9
- Girls U10 A Final: Aine Curran (Tyrone) dft Caislin Tracey (Tyrone) 25-24
- Girls 11&U A Final: Laura Duff (Tyrone) dft Tara Curran (Tyrone) 24-9
- Girls 13&U A Final: Chloe Philpott (Clare) dft Clodagh Munroe (Tyrone) 25-10
- Girls 15&U A Final: Caoiliosa Ni Dhuill (Armagh) dft Carragh Shannon (Antrim) 23-10
- Boys U10B Final: Niall Kelly (Galway) dft Caolan Grimes (Tyrone) 25-16
- Boys 11&U B Final: Ruairi McCullagh (Tyr) dft Tomas Duff (Tyr) 25-15
- Boys 13&U B Final: Gary McAleer (Tyr) dft Ciaran McNally (Tyr) 25-5.
- Boys 15&U B Final: Conor Keeley (Louth) dft Zak Devine (Tyrone) 19-15
- Boys 17&U B Final: Dáire Savage (Down) dft Dárragh Tumelty (Down)
- Girls U10B Final: Lucy McCullagh (Tyrone) dft Clare O'Hagan (Armagh) 25-7
- Girls 11&U B Final: Meabh Gallagher (Antrim) dft Cara McCrory (Tyrone) 25-6
- Girls 13&U B Final: Carragh Kennedy (Roscommon) dft Caoimhe McElduff (Tyrone) 24-3
- Girls 15&U B Final: Sarah Devlin (Tyrone) dft Ellie Jane Quinn (Tyrone) 20-12