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PREVIEW: Cork and Kilkenny go head to head in ladies final

Paul Fitzpatrick

Where handballers gather and the discussion begins about the great doubles teams, talk usually centres around the men's code and the achievements of modern day stars such as Paul Brady and Michael Finnegan (11 40x20 titles), Ducksy Walsh and Eugene Downey (10 60x30 crowns) and Tom Sheridan, who won titles almost on an annual basis, in various codes and with different partners, across three decades

The record books don't lie, though, and now there is a new team who could well be in for a mention in the conversation if their current run of form continues.

Cork's Catriona Casey and Aishling O'Keeffe will, this Saturday, aim to win a sixth All-Ireland 60x30 Senior Doubles title which, added to the four 40x20 titles they already hold, marks them out as the brand leaders in female championship doubles play in the last decade.

The asterisk attached - and there is always one - is that entry numbers have not been particularly healthy at times in either code but it is impossible to argue that the Rebelettes did not beat the best pairings out there either. As the saying goes, you can only beat what's in front of you and the Cork ladies have done that in impressive fashion.

[As an aside, while we're at it, it's also worth noting that the four entries in this year's 60x30 Senior Doubles doesn't lag far behind the corresponding men's competition either, where six of the first eight matches were conceded and only five will be played in total, two more than in the ladies grade.]

In their relatively short careers to date, the Cork pair have won senior finals against teams from Limerick, Kerry, Mayo and Kilkenny. Their big alley run began in 2013, when they saw off Mayo's Pauline Gallagher and Amy Corrigan (who had beaten them in the final the year before) and they haven't looked back since.

Standing in their way this Saturday are Kilkenny's Ciara Mahon and Aoife Holden, whom they defeated in straight games (21-8, 21-9) in the 2017 decider.

The Clogh/Kilfane duo beat Gallagher and Corrigan 21-15, 21-9 in the semi-finals in what was an eye-catching performance and having had the experience of playing on the big day last year, their supporters in the 60x30 hotbed of Kilkenny will be hopeful that they can go very close on this occasion.

The Cats are big alley specialists, as Mahon revealed in an interview on a few weeks back.

"Coming from the 60x30 stronghold of Kilkenny, 60x30 is my favourite code of handball. I guess I like the pace of the game and skill set required … and it plays to my strength of having a dominant underarm stroke," she said.

The Trinity College graduate has been on an upward curve in recent seasons and together with Holden, they form a potent partnership in the big court.

However, Casey and O'Keeffe dovetail exceptionally well. Casey, who will play the left and take much of the play, has been in excellent form of late, despite losing a very close final in the singles to Martina McMahon, and seems to have elevated her 60x30 game, with McMahon herself commenting on the Ballydesmond woman's aggressive backwall play, which, she said, caught her by surprise.

With another couple of weeks' training under her belt in the 60x30 court, Casey should be on top of her game once more and while a close, well-contested final is expected, a win for Kilkenny would be regarded as a mild upset.

Both sides were tested in their semi-finals but came through, with Cork seeing off a young and talented Kildare (a welcome addition to senior ranks) while, as stated, Kilkenny defeated the experienced Mayo duo.

The match serves off second on the card at Croke Park, between the Men's Senior Doubles semi-finals.


Saturday 13th October 2018, Croke Park HC, Dublin, 2pm

Men’s Senior Doubles – SF 1

  • Dublin (Eoin Kennedy/Carl Browne) v Wexford (Gavin Buggy/Tommy Hynes)

Ladies Senior Doubles – Final

  • Cork (Catriona Casey/Aishling O’Keeffe) v Kilkenny (Ciara Mahon/Aoife Holden)

Men’s Senior Doubles – SF 2

  • Kilkenny (Ciaran Neary/Keith Bourke) v Meath (Brian Carroll/Gary McConnell)