One of the most eagerly-anticipated weekends of the year is almost upon us as the quarter and semi-finals in the O’Neill’s Men’s and Women’s Senior Singles Championships are down for decision, writes Paul Fitzpatrick.
The Men’s Senior Singles quarter-finals take place in Abbeylara this Saturday; two women’s quarter-finals are down for decision in Multyfarnham at the same time and all four semis in both competitions are back at the Longford venue the following day.
First up on Sunday in Abbeylara is the meeting of defending champion Diarmaid Nash of Clare and Cork’s first-time quarter-finalist Michael Hedigan.
The Liscarroll clubman came through an 11-10 tiebreaker against Brendan Fleming last time out and, he told GAAHandball.ie last week, he will need to be on top form to trouble the Tuamgraney man.
“I’ll take a rest now for two or three days and then go hard at it again. I played Nash in the Golden Gloves last November. The first game, he beat me 15-6, I didn’t get going. In the second game he was up 7-0, I led 11-7 after that but fitness kicked in and he was a small bit smarter than me,” said Hedigan.
“In fairness, Diarmaid has been there and done that, he’s a very smart player. I’d want to be playing very well to beat him but I will train hard and hopefully things will click on the day.
“He’s a tough player to come up against, he’s very smart and I’ll have to keep him away from the front of the court if I can. He’s very good on the fly. I’ve played him two or three times and I know what to expect from him, you have to earn every ace to be honest.
“I met him just before Covid in the Senior Championship. He beat me well in the first and then he beat me 21-16 in the second. But I think I’m after maturing, I’m only 27 and I haven’t played a lot of these top boys that much before. I’ll go in and have a cut off him and that’s all I can do, he’s the defending champion and the best player in Ireland you could say.”
Nash, for his part, was very impressive against Galway left-hander Cian Ó Conghaile in his round of 16 match and given his vast experience and proven big-game nous, comes into the game as favourite.
“Michael is a very good player. Some guys half-dive for shots and then there are others, like Killian (Carroll), where you have to absolutely roll it or it’s going to be picked. I feel that Michael is like that, he dives for everything and gets a lot of them,” Nash said this week.
“Effort is a lot in handball. He extends rallies and it’s very hard to pass him. A very, very good player, very hard to pass, a more two-handed version of Buggy in ways, a very difficult player to play against.
“I’m under no illusions, you’re going to be tired coming out of it, win or lose. But at the same time, I have to focus on myself, try and play better, hit shots, serve well and if that happens, if I play well, I think I have a good chance.”
The second quarter-final is the meeting of Kerry’s Dominic Lynch and Tyrone’s Conor McElduff, a match which is potentially the tie of the round, pitting the Glenbeigh man’s experience and craft against McElduff’s speed and athleticism.
The Breacach clubman’s forays into the 40x20 code have been limited in recent years but he does have an Intermediate title to his name and his comfortable All-Ireland win in the Junior Singles in the big alley last year was further proof that his wallball skills can cross over.
He won a tiebreaker against the in-form Daniel Relihan in the round of 16. Veteran Lynch, meanwhile, also needed a third game to get past Tadhg Carroll. The left-hander has been around the top of senior ranks for many years and shows no signs of slowing down. An entertaining clash is in store here as both men seek a last-four place.
The Funchion brothers, Peter and Patrick, contest the remaining two quarter-finals. Peter recently defeated Patrick in the Leinster Senior Singles final, played in their home court in Kells.
Peter takes on Clare’s Colin Crehan in what should be an interesting tussle. Former Irish Nationals champion Crehan came through an 11-8 tiebreaker against Wicklow’s Colin Crehan last time out; Peter Funchion had a walkover against Ger Coonan, who was injured.
Patrick Funchion, meanwhile, also went to the wire in his round of 16 match, getting the better of Gavin Buggy (21-16, 9-21, 11-4) in a hard-fought battle. Patrick faces the formidable challenge of Westmeath’s Robbie McCarthy, the four-time winner and last year’s runner-up.
McCarthy was in awesome form against Diarmuid Mulkerrins in the last round and comes into the clash carrying the favourite’s tag.
Sunday’s semi-finals in men’s and ladies grades will be streamed on the GAA Handball Facebook page.
Ladies preview to follow.
2023 O’Neills 4-Wall Men’s Senior Singles All Ireland Championships
Saturday 25th February
Abbeylara, Longford OIC Anna Reilly (086-3509829) TIME:
MSS QF 1: Clare (Diarmaid Nash) v Cork (Michael Hedigan) At 11am
MSS QF 2: Kerry (Dominic Lynch) v Tyrone (Conor McElduff) At 12.30pm
MSS QF 3: Clare (Colin Crehan) v Kilkenny (Peter Funchion) At 2pm
MSS QF 4: Westmeath (Robbie McCarthy) v Kilkenny (Patrick Funchion) At 3.30pm